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Morning headlines: Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A toll plaza in Medina, Washington
A toll plaza in Medina, Washington

Mo. lawmakers considering I-70 toll proposals

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Kevin Keith told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday that changes to the interstate, such as widening it to six lanes, could create construction jobs and make the state more economically competitive. Keith said such improvements could cost as much as $4 billion.

Private companies would finance the project up front and collect tolls on I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis.

Lawmakers raised several concerns Tuesday with the proposal, including that the tolls could hurt the state's small trucking businesses. They said tolls also could create more congestion on roads and highways near I-70 as people attempt to avoid the tolls.

Mo. unemployment rate falls to 8 percent

Though Missouri's unemployment rate fell to 8 percent, the state's overall payroll still declined by several thousand jobs.

The state Department of Economic Development reported Tuesday that Missouri's net nonfarm payroll declined by 11,800 jobs in December. Officials say that includes seasonal job losses in private educational services because of holiday and semester breaks at colleges and universities.

Missouri's unemployment rate in December declined two-tenths of a point to 8 percent, the lowest rate since January 2009.

Nixon proposes $23 billion budget during State of the State address

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is proposing to balance the state budget by making more cuts to programs and

Last night, Nixon proposed a nearly $23 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year that would cut funding for higher education and eliminate hundreds of state positions to help close a projected gap between expenses and revenues.

The governor's budget plan also assumes savings from the state Medicaid program and a restructuring of state debt. It also assumes an increase in revenue collections through an amnesty period for people with overdue taxes.

Nixon presented his budget plan as part of his annual State of the State address.

Republican legislative leaders say they hope to spare schools from cuts as they craft a budget.