Good evening. Thank you for joining me.
I am Tim Jones, Speaker of your Missouri House, and it is an honor to speak with you tonight.
Last November, the people of Missouri sent record numbers of Republicans to Jefferson City to govern and to advance an ambitious policy agenda, an agenda focused on strengthening our state’s economy, reforming our education system, and creating opportunity for all Missourians.
Missourians also gave their support to Governor Nixon, a self-proclaimed independent, fiscal conservative who has proudly reaffirmed his intention to work with Republicans to keep tax burdens low, government small, and the bureaucratic red tape to a minimum.
It was a governor our state rarely saw during his first term in office, but after seeing his newfound approach to governance, I am cautiously optimistic about working with him in the years ahead.
Moments ago, you heard the governor outline HIS priorities for the upcoming year.
While some of the common ground with Republicans he discussed on the campaign trail is still there, many of his new proposals, ones that would create a bigger, more intrusive government bureaucracy threaten to create a chasm that no amount of bipartisanship can bridge.
And in the past, as in tonight, the Governor has articulated grand concepts but provided little detail.
Many in the legislature, on both sides of the aisle, are concerned about the governor’s pattern of retreating behind rhetoric instead of leading and engaging with us to find solutions.
So I challenge the governor, for the good of all Missourians, to break from his past pattern of ivory tower executive isolation, roll up his sleeves and work with us to find common ground.
I welcome his participation.
In the months ahead, Republican leadership in the House and Senate will work with the governor on the issues the people of Missouri entrusted us to address when they elected us to office.
We have profound differences but we will focus on the places where we may find agreement.
Areas like the critical task of improving our state’s aging and failing infrastructure.
We must work together to make sure our roads and bridges, the essential transportation routes vital to economic development, are maintained, repaired and, when necessary, rebuilt.
We also believe it is important to review the effectiveness of our existing state programs, including Missouri’s 61 tax credit programs.
Many of these programs accomplish a worthwhile goal, but oversight and accountability are required.
We will eliminate the credits that do not work, cap programs at a reasonable level to provide budget certainty, and ensure that taxpayers are protected.
And if the Governor’s leadership is absent, as it has been many times over the past four years, or when the proposals he pushes are radically different from the campaign promises he made, we will not hesitate to use our historic majorities that the people entrusted us with to pursue our agenda to reform and transform our state.
A prime example is the governor’s call to expand the welfare state by adding 300,000 Missourians to the Medicaid roles.
It’s a call that has come courtesy of Obamacare and Washington, D.C. It’s a call the Republican-led legislature will not answer.
Eight years ago, Republican leadership made the difficult but desperately needed decision to reign in a welfare system that was growing at an unsustainable rate.
It was a decision that saved the state billions of dollars and staved off almost certain bankruptcy.
Today we are faced with a similar decision.
On one side we have a governor and a federal government that believes bigger government is the answer.
They want to take us down a fiscally irresponsible path that will saddle future generations of Missourians with a bill they cannot afford.
It’s a path Republicans will not follow.
Why should we pour billions of dollars of your hard-earned tax money into a broken system? That would defy basic economic sense.
We will not follow the lead of out-of-touch bureaucrats whose reckless spending has pushed our nation to the brink of financial disaster.
Instead, Republican leadership will propose a plan to transform our Medicaid system, to repair a broken system so that it works as intended by providing quality care to the neediest Missourians.
Republicans have always stood for providing opportunity to those who are truly in need. And that is where your hard earned tax dollars should be spent.
Our commitment is to stay true to the will of the people who have consistently voted with large majorities against the economy-crippling provisions of Obamacare, to find ways to keep the size of government small and to steer our state away from the same kind of fiscal cliff our federal government cannot seem to avoid.
We also call on Governor Nixon to stand in support of the many Missouri hospitals that provide care to the un- and underinsured.
The federal government’s decision to cut the dish payments that reimburse hospitals for the care they offer is one that we must oppose together.
This ploy by the White House to force the hands of states like ours to expand Medicaid must be rejected, and we must develop a Missouri solution that will allow hospitals to continue to provide care, one that doesn’t require a massive expansion of government that Missouri taxpayers simply cannot afford.
Instead of adding more bloat to the bureaucracy, our efforts this year must focus on strengthening Missouri’s economy, a goal that requires both short-term and long-term solutions.
In the short-term, we can improve our business climate and attract new employers and new jobs by making Missouri’s employment law standards comparable to national standards.
Over the past several years, Missouri’s courts have made misguided rulings that have created uncertainty in our legal environment.
The result is that compliance is now more difficult for existing employers, and potential businesses are discouraged from setting up shop in a state where frivolous lawsuits are far too common.
It is time to put Missouri employers on a level playing field with their competitors around the country, to provide certainty in the legal system that allows businesses to focus on growing their businesses, creating jobs rather than worrying about unnecessary lawsuits.
We also must work to protect one of our largest employers in Missouri - the health care industry.
It is critical that we correct a misguided court decision that opens the door for endless lawsuits with unlimited damages, a decision that will drive doctors out of the state, destroy jobs and reduce Missourians’ access to care.
One of our top priorities for this legislative session will be to reform our medical malpractice system so we can close the floodgate of lawsuits that threaten to drive the cost of medical malpractice insurance through the roof and, of course, increase the cost of care.
Last year, Kansas enacted sweeping tax reforms that made their state extremely attractive to business and upheld their medical malpractice protections for their health care industry.
These are the latest shots in what has been a prolonged—and very successful—effort to poach Missouri companies and Missouri jobs—the ongoing economic “border war.”
And if we do not respond to these very real threats, the war could turn into a rout.
So we must immediately review our tax code and enact fiscally-responsible policies that ensure we remain competitive with our neighboring states.
We must also begin to take steps to secure our future.
We must protect our state’s education funding and give parents, teachers, and school boards the tools they need to ensure the Missourians of today are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow
It would be shortsighted and irresponsible for Missouri’s leaders to place the temporary benefits of entitlement funding ahead of lasting benefits of education, yet that is exactly what Governor Nixon has done over the past several years.
With each speech he has made, the governor has promised the people of Missouri that he will put education first.
But as his rhetoric has been replaced with reality, Missourians have seen just how empty his promises are.
Each year it has been the legislature that has shown real leadership on the vital issue of education.
In each of the last three years, we’ve sent the governor budgets that placed an emphasis on funding both K-12 and higher education.
Each year, he has responded by withholding millions of dollars from our schools.
It was last year the governor asked us to take our funding for K-12 education to record levels, which we did.
At the same time, he asked that funding once again be cut for higher education.
The legislature, despite an incredibly difficult budget, made a commitment to not only provide record levels of funding to our elementary and secondary education system, but also to reverse the $106 million cut the governor had proposed for our colleges and universities.
And how did the governor respond to our decision?
By withholding more than $9 million, effectively cutting higher education funding for a third straight year.
And yet, despite his claims that these cuts had to be made to balance the budget, he was able to find nearly $6 million of your tax money to buy a brand new plane.
Pledging your commitment to our children and then failing to support them flies in the face of good governance and leadership.
Missouri children, our future leaders, deserve more.
When it comes to leadership on the issue of education, Governor Nixon has been absent and actively worked against the legislature’s efforts to invest in what he claims is his top priority.
What’s worse, this has happened at a time when Missouri’s two largest school districts are failing, as our universities are struggling to find ways to prepare our young people for the jobs of the future.
Our children, whether they are born in Springfield, St Louis or Sedalia, Kansas City, Camdenton or Cape, Poplar Bluff, Palmyra or anywhere in between, deserve access to the highest quality education.
But our schools will not be able to provide this level of education if their funding is consistently slashed to the bone to fund an ever-increasing, bloated entitlement system full of waste, fraud and abuse.
Our antiquated, overly bureaucratic system is the antithesis of innovation and excellence.
Teachers should be rewarded for their performance and encouraged to boldly engage in the technological innovation that will create the highly-skilled workforce of tomorrow that we so desperately need.
Finally, we must work to ensure that parents are provided the opportunity to be involved in their children’s education.
Education cannot just begin and end at the schoolhouse door.
It must continue at home, and parents should take an active role in ensuring their children are learning what they need to succeed.
This can be accomplished by providing parents more power to intervene in failing school districts and force the necessary changes to ensure access to an effective education.
This year we also must work to improve and better fund our system of mental health.
Families across Missouri and across our great nation continue to mourn the loss of the young people at Sandy Hook Elementary who were so tragically taken from us, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those families who suffered through this difficult time, but the solution to prevent such tragedies from happening again in the future does not involve trampling on the Second Amendment rights of our citizens.
Instead, we must place an emphasis on creating a mental health system that makes care accessible and effective, so that those who might do us harm have the opportunity to receive the kind of help that can put them on a path to triumph rather than tragedy.
You can count on Republicans to develop policy solutions that will protect your children—but also protect your rights as Americans.
You sent us to Jefferson City for results, and Republicans in the General Assembly are committed to leading a government worthy of the citizens it serves.
Whether it is education innovation or labor reform, saving our healthcare industry or balancing our budget with fairness and equity, the truth has no agenda and the challenges before us shall require bold leadership and transformational ideas.
And if our governor is not up to the demands these times require, your General Assembly is prepared to provide the leadership that is so desperately needed.
While our counterparts in DC may believe that government has all the answers and that bigger government is better, here in Missouri we believe that government is not the ruler of the people, it is the people who should rule over their government. Only then will all the people find the freedom and opportunity that will lead them to prosperity.
In the coming months, I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate, and I hope to work successfully with Governor Nixon, to achieve the vision I have outlined this evening—restoring our infrastructure, strengthening our education system, and creating a job-friendly pro-growth business environment.
Together, we can achieve these goals, and create a better future, full of opportunity for all Missourians.
A place where future generations work, raise their families, and are proud to call home.
Thank you for listening this evening.
May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the Great State of Missouri.