Missouri Gov. Parson calls for higher teacher pay, child care access
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Republican Gov. Mike Parson in his State of the State address Wednesday proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars to boost teacher wages as the state battles the latest COVID-19 surge.
Parson’s budget request to lawmakers is massive, bolstered by roughly $2.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus relief funding.
He called for $722 million to keep child care centers open, close to $22 million for matching grants to raise teacher salaries to a minimum of $38,000 a year, and $51.6 million more for the state’s public colleges and universities.
Another $955 million would go to increase pay rates for nursing homes and care for people with disabilities under Parson’s budget, plus more than $106 million for home- and community based-services for people with disabilities and the elderly.
“With a historic budget surplus and federal dollars coming to our state, we want to build on our past momentum to capture even greater opportunities for the future of Missourians,” Parson said in prepared remarks provided before his speech. “When other states will be filling spending gaps and budget shortfalls, we will be making investments in the future, because in Missouri, we took a common sense approach to the pandemic, never shutdown businesses, and have always had a conservative and balanced budget.”
Parson delivered his speech in a nearly full House chamber, where few members of the Republican-led Legislature wore masks.
At least nine lawmakers have come down with COVID-19 since the session begin Jan. 5, though that number may be higher because not all absent lawmakers have provided a reason. Last year, Parson’s speech was shifted at the last moment from the House to the Senate chamber amid COVID-19 concerns.
Parson lauded his administration’s response to the pandemic, noting that 94% of residents 65 and older and 73% of adults have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine.
According to the state health department, closer to 86% of seniors and 65% of adults are fully vaccinated.
“While there will always be endless critics to tell us how we could have done it better, the facts are we were the ones in the arena,” Parson said in prepared remarks. “We made the tough decisions and never cowered to the challenge.”
About 58% of Missouri residents eligible for the vaccine, meaning children who are at least 5 years old and adults, are fully vaccinated. Of Missouri’s total population, 55% are fully vaccinated.
Kansas City Sen. Lauren Arthur, in a statement, said Senate Democrats want to see the state’s vaccination rate increase.
“It’s time leaders listen to those who are vaccinated and ready to move forward,” she said. “The vaccines work. They are the best protection against hospitalizations and death. They are free. They are widely available. And they are safe.”
Parson’s budget proposal includes $400 million in American Rescue Plan Act aid for personal protective equipment, emergency staff, vaccines, testing and treatment.
Parson’s top priorities for the 2022 legislative session also include a 5.5% pay raise for state workers to be implemented as soon as February. He asked lawmakers for an extra $91 million to bring state worker pay to a minimum of $15 an hour for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends in May.
For a full year, the total cost of a statewide worker pay raise is estimated at $218 million.
Parson’s administration has advocated for the pay bump in part to address worker shortages at mental health hospitals, prisons and other state institutions that serve vulnerable residents.
State Budget Director Dan Haug said there are about 4,500 vacant positions that Parson’s administration considers vital to fill.
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