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Nixon optimistic about Missouri economy, but says more cuts will be needed

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio


Jefferson City, Mo. – Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said the state will balance its budget without raising taxes.

Nixon outlined a plan Wednesday to eliminate more than $250 million in spending in the next fiscal year.

Later, the governor acknowledged in his State of the State address the economy remains poor. But he said Missouri has avoided the financial meltdown that has occurred in other states.

He proposed cutting funding for higher education and giving K-12 schools less than a fifth of the funding increase they need. Nixon wants to use about $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds to balance next year's budget. But that depends on whether Congress extends the stimulus package.

Reaction to the speech was mixed. Unsurprisingly, the Democratic governor got rave reviews from his fellow party members, and criticism from Republicans.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler (R, Farmington) took Nixon to task for calling for the restoration of campaign contribution limits.

"It's the 'right thing' to do and everything, but yet it wasn't the right thing for him to do this month. He's already taken three checks of over $10,000. Why doesn't he self-impose his own limits if it's the right thing to do, as he says?" Engler said.

During the Republican response, Lt. Governor Peter Kinder criticized Nixon for planning more budget cuts while not making any to the Governor's Office.

But State Senator Ryan McKenna (D, Crystal City) said it was one of the better speeches he's ever heard Nixon give.

"He looked like he was having fun up there for a change. There [are] a lot of issues, I think, that he went over that [he] didn't go into a lot of detail. I'd like to get some more information on that jobs bill," McKenna said.

McKenna also said he was intrigued by the governor's proposal to put high school and college kids to work at Missouri's state parks, and he expressed gratitude for the governor's support of autism insurance legislation.

The National Federation of Independent Business is praising Governor Nixon for pledging not to raise taxes again this year, while the Missouri Budget Project, which advocates for social services, expressed concern over the decision to cut an additional $200 million from the state budget.