Senator Mike Cunningham

As every fourth-grade student learns in civics class, Missouri’s government has three distinct branches: the legislature, the executive and the courts. Each of these branches operates independently, but like the three legs of a stool, none can stand on its own.

Two of those branches came together last week as the governor presented his budget priorities during the annual State of the State Address. Delivered to a joint-session of the House and Senate, with statewide elected officials, state agency heads, members of the Missouri Supreme Court and other distinguished guests on hand, the speech is always a highlight of the beginning weeks of session.

The governor began his speech declaring Missouri faces big issues and that bold solutions will be required to address them. We must set priorities if we are to move forward, he said. The governor left no doubt as to his priorities. He is focused on workforce development and infrastructure funding.

The bold ideas the governor proposed to advance workforce development totaled nearly $75 million. The governor asked for $22 million for a “Fast-Track” grant program to subsidize tuition for adult students. Another $16 million would go toward “Missouri Excels,” an employer-driven jobs training program. The existing Missouri Works program would be expanded with $10 million pledged toward “One Start,” a program aimed at assisting current employers grow and train their workforce.

Turning his attention to infrastructure, the governor indicated that he favors funding solutions that do not require asking voters for tax increases. He proposed $350 million worth of road and bridge work to be paid for through bonds, thus freeing existing state money for other projects. He announced the closure of one prison and the reduction of the state’s payroll by more than 400 employees among cost-savings in the coming year.

One idea that will surely be welcome in Missouri’s rural communities and small towns is a $50 million cost-sharing program for cities and counties. Often smaller projects get overlooked as lawmakers focus on big-ticket projects. Nobody understands the impact of grants and cost-sharing like the county commissioners and small-town officials who struggle to fund even modest projects.

I was also pleased to hear the governor recommend $5 million in state money to supplement federal funding for high-speed broadband services in rural areas. With more than $250 million in federal funding, we may soon see a day when rural Missourians have equal access to the Information Superhighway.

All in all, it was a good speech and the governor is clearly focused on jobs and building a business environment that encourages growth and opportunity. He also understands that we need a strong foundation of roads and bridges – not just those made of concrete, but also the ones built with wire and fiber. The governor succeeded in presenting his vision for Missouri. It remains to be seen what we in the Legislature will do with it.

Speaking of the Legislature, this past week, senators received their committee assignments. I will retain the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Fiscal Oversight. I will be vice chairman of the Economic Development and Insurance and Banking  committees. I will also have a seat on three other standing committees: Appropriations, Professional Registration and the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.