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Gov. Parson says spending $2.6 billion in federal aid will be a multiyear task for Missouri

Gov. Mike Parson speaks to St. Louis Public Radio on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in his office at the Missouri Statehouse in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Mike Parson speaks to St. Louis Public Radio on Wednesday in his office in Jefferson City.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. Jan. 6 with comments from Senate leadership

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says the state’s budget is likely to be the big issue during the 2022 legislative session, specifically how to spend billions of federal dollars the state is getting in coronavirus relief.

The state has an estimated $2.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, and in addition to the $400 million Parson wants to spend on broadband access, he said there is going to be a “pretty extensive list” of expenditures. It includes investing in highways and rural health care, as well as universities and community colleges.

“I think just almost everything we’ll be able to touch,” Parson said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio on Wednesday as the legislature was about to begin its 2022 session.

With an allocation deadline of 2024 and a spending deadline of 2026, the state does have time to evaluate exactly how federal money should be spent, even over more than one session. Parson said allocating all the funds in one year would not be a good business model, and he supported taking multiple sessions to accomplish the task.

“We’re going to take our time on this, really look again where we can invest things and work with the legislators trying to find out how we’re going to move forward,” Parson said.

He emphasized the importance of looking at this funding beyond a year-to-year basis. One area he would like to see money invested in is research and training centers.

“All the different companies, when you look at, whether it's intelligence, finance, cybersecurity, we need to invest to make sure our kids know to stay here, Missouri wants our families to stay here,” Parson said.

Congressional redistricting is another matter that Parson expected to be a top priority especially early in the session. He defended his decision to not call a special session in 2021.

“I mean, you got the legislators back, they want to make it a priority, I would say that should be the first thing they do. And if that means working Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and everything to do, they can do that now,” Parson said.

As to how the congressional map will turn out, while Parson said it’s early in the process, ultimately the maps should be fair and represent “who we are as a state.”

“I mean you’ve got a 6-2 [Republican-Democratic] map now, we’ve had that for 10 years. My guess is, and it’s strictly that, that’s probably somewhere where it’s going to end up,” Parson said.

While Parson conceded that things tend to move slower in an election year, he said both redistricting and parts of the budget will be completed early, leaving room for other legislation to pass in the later months.

“I think we can find a lot of common ground when it comes to infrastructure, workforce development, education, health care, law enforcement, public safety,” the governor said.

The 2022 session is starting as the COVID-19 pandemic is surging. Case numbers and hospitalizations increased dramatically over the holiday season. Hospitals in the St. Louis region alone are anticipating a doubling of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks.

Despite the increase in cases, Parson allowed Missouri’s state of emergency related to COVID-19 to expire last week. Speaking on that decision, he said the initial emergency was in part to temporarily waive 600 regulations. Some of those regulations could be addressed by lawmakers during session.

“They're going to be able to take action on those issues if they so want, but an executive order or emergency orders are never meant to stay in place for long, long periods of time,” Parson said.

Another effect of the repeal of the emergency is the National Guard no longer being activated to respond to the pandemic. As to the part Missouri government should play in combating the pandemic, Parson said the state eventually needs to take a secondary support role.

“I believe COVID is going to be here, I don't know that it's going away. So, we got to figure out how we deal with it, you know, like any other health care issue, and how we move forward and still maintain the state,” Parson said.

As far as the future of the pandemic, Parson still believes Missourians should make the decision for themselves on whether to get vaccinated.

“If you start letting a president or governor dictate those things without input from the public, the general public, you know, we're making a terrible mistake there,” Parson said.

While Parson said he’s not in favor of mandates, period, he believes in the rights of private companies, including their potential ability to issue mandates.

“I think you’ve got to be real careful when you start forcing, but again, businesses are private entities, and private industry has a right to do what they want to do. They own it,” Parson said.

House leaders’ 2022 legislative priorities

For both Missouri House Republicans and Democrats, redistricting and the budget are likely to be some of the biggest issues ahead for the 2022 legislative session.

On the first day of the session Wednesday, House leaders spoke about their party’s priorities for the months ahead.

Republicans said they are planning on tackling the budget early, including possible statewide raises.

In December, Parson announced his support for raises for all state employees. Those raises will be included in his supplemental budget.

Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, who chairs the Budget Committee, said members will be sorting out the details of what that proposal would look like.

“Like all of the workforce across all of all public and private sectors in Missouri, state government is having a hard time keeping employees, especially in pivotal roles. So we need to be responsive to that,” Smith said.

Additionally, the Budget Committee will have billions of federal COVID-19 relief dollars to consider allocating this year. That money must be allocated by the end of 2024.

As to how House Republicans would like to see some of that money spent, broadband access was specifically mentioned, which is something that already has gubernatorial support.

House Democrats are prepared to use a new lack of a supermajority on the Republican side to their advantage.

House Minority leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said she is looking forward to Republicans needing Democratic support to pass an emergency clause on congressional redistricting maps. That clause would prevent a possible delay in elections.

“We want to be able to really invest in Missouri. So we're going to be putting together a whole lot of asks, as the time comes where they're going to need our votes for that emergency clause,” she said.

Quade said fully funding Medicaid expansion is another Democratic priority. As to how Democrats want to spend the billions in federal coronavirus relief money, they plan to outline that at a later date.

When asked if between redistricting and the budget there would be time to pass much other legislation, House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, had a short answer.

“That’s why the floor leader has scheduled some Fridays for us to work,” Vescovo said.

Lingering tensions in the Senate return

The legislature concluded its business for the week Thursday afternoon, with a long list to accomplish in the months ahead. However, in the Senate, existing tensions between some members and Republican leadership have already returned.

Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ashgrove, a member of the conservative caucus, spent over an hour Thursday discussing a line-item veto he wanted to override during the veto session back in September, which ultimately wasn’t overturned.

Speaking after the Senate adjourned for the day, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said his goal is to ultimately have a working, functioning Senate.

“Hopefully, we'll get past the personalities, obviously, this is the first thing [to] come out of the gate, we're getting some, airing out some dirty laundry at this point in time. There's a point and place for that, too. And sometimes it's not on the Senate floor,” Schatz said.

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, also spoke on the divisions, especially between Republican leadership and the conservative caucus.

“The notion that we need to go out of our way, you know, to overly cater to a relatively small group of people within our caucus, you know, is just not something I'm interested in,” Rowden said.

Some Democrats are also unhappy with the state of the Senate. Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said that the Senate remains fractured but that the body can get back on track.

Rizzo on Thursday filed a resolution he said would be a positive step in restoring the “trust and civility of the Senate.” The resolution is a rule change that would ultimately make it harder to end a Senate filibuster.

“It's an olive branch that I think that they could extend to us to show that they are ready and willing to move forward and work together in a reasonable and responsible way,” Rizzo said.

Beyond the state of the Senate itself, leadership also spoke about priorities for 2022. On the topic of congressional redistricting, Rowden said most of the Republican caucus is in favor of a 6-2 Republican-Democratic map.

When asked whether the legislature would pass the state employee raises that Gov. Mike Parson is backing, Rowden said there is support and concern.

“I don't think anybody doesn't want to pay state workers more, I do think you have a couple of things that that we've heard in various conversations that we've had. One is just the sheer magnitude of dollars, and certainly we have a lot of money now, but that's obviously not going to always be the case,” Rowden said.

As to how Missouri should spend the billions it will receive in federal coronavirus relief, Rizzo listed both education and building a skilled workforce as areas that need funding.

“Obviously, the dollars are here, they're coming in, and we're going to start working on big projects in the state of Missouri and narrowing them down to which ones are more important than others. But if you don't have people ready to do the skilled work, that's a bigger problem,” Rizzo said.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.