JEFFERSON CITY — Callaway County's government representatives liked what they heard during Gov. Mike Parson's first State of the State address Wednesday.
"It was one of best I've ever sat in on," Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said. "I'm glad our visions for Missouri look so similar."
Parson, who was sworn in June 1 following the ouster of former Gov. Eric Greitens, focused on issues likely to receive bipartisan support during his address. His proposed budget emphasizes workforce development and critical infrastructure improvement. It also leaves about $117 million unallocated.
"If everything's a priority, nothing is," Parson said. "We have to be honest about our priorities."
Parson suggested borrowing $351 million to repair 250 bridges, repaying the money from general revenue over the next 15 years. That would leave highway funds open to be used for other projects, he said. The suggestion follows the voters' rejection of a proposed 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax in November. He also proposed putting $50 million toward a cost-share program for county and city road projects.
"If you look at our roads and bridges, if you travel I-70 any, you'll realize we have an infrastructure problem in Callaway County," Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, said.
Parson also put an emphasis on Missouri's port system, mentioning that with planned expansions to the Panama Canal, waterways around the country are likely to see increased traffic.
Callaway County, Cole County and Jefferson City have been jointly planning a new Missouri River port.
"I was excited to hear ports made a priority, too," Fitzwater said. "Everyone wants more products being shipped through Missouri. I think it's an opportunity we should definitely be looking at. It makes a lot of sense for economic development, but it also has to make sense long-term, financially."
Parson brought up several initiatives targeting workforce development.
"We certainly have the people-power we need," Fitzwater said. "We just need to get them trained to do the jobs."
The governor described a mentoring partnership between Eldon Public Schools and a window-making company. The program builds good work habits in young students, such as good attendance. He hopes to see similar programs spring up across the state, he said.
Parson's budget puts $22 million toward adult education initiative Fast Track. Fast Track offers grants to adults wishing to pursue degrees and advanced in high-need areas.
The governor also announced $10 million toward a new fund known as Missouri One Start, which is an increase and consolidation of the Missouri Works program, aimed at assisting new and existing businesses with upgrading their workers' skills to build their workforce needs. His budget also includes $16 million for the creation of Missouri Excels, a program for Missouri higher education institutions to develop and expand employer-driven education, training programs and initiatives to increase career readiness.
Haden said freshman representatives frequently tour companies across the state, and he's seen the need for more workforce development. The need is especially great in technical and skilled labor.
"We're seeing these good jobs and they're going unfilled," he said. "Some people come out of college with a degree they can't get a job with. I think we've missed the boat by saying a four-year college is the only way to success."
Parson emphasized streamlining government and finding ways to be more efficient with taxpayer dollars. To that end, he proposed eliminating about 450 government positions.
"Some of those positions, there's nobody in them right now," Fitzwater said.
Other government employees will be seeing a 3 percent pay raise beginning in January 2020, under Parson's proposal, with additional raises for employees whose salaries fall far below the marketplace median.
Haden was glad to hear Parson mention prison reform, given the high number of inmates currently filling Missouri's prisons.
"Sometimes for a small pot violation, they're getting slapped in jail and that isn't very helpful for anybody," he said.
Various health care issues, including telemedicine, curbing Medicaid costs and combating the opioid crisis also received shout-outs.
Parson pointed out a number of rural Missouri schools don't have access to high-speed, broadband internet and said he hopes the state will work to improve internet access. That's highly relevant to Callaway County, Haden said.
Sen. Jeanie Riddle's office, R-Mokane, did not return requests for comment.