JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Gov. Jay Nixon declared job creation his top priority Wednesday while suggesting that Missouri's public schools and colleges should share the burden for Missouri's burgeoning budget woes.
In a State of the State address that acknowledged continued job losses and declining tax revenues, Nixon said Missouri must provide greater incentives for biotechnology firms, job training and existing businesses that expand locally.
He stressed that public schools would receive a record amount of money under his proposed budget for next year -- even though it would give K-12 school districts less than one-fifth of the funding increase needed to fully finance Missouri's school formula.
Nixon also proposed cuts for public universities and colleges, which have agreed to hold tuition flat in 2010-2011 to avoid even larger cuts. Nixon sought to soften some of the financial blow by urging an expansion of scholarships for community college students -- a campaign pledge from his 2008 gubernatorial race that lawmakers have yet to fund.
The governor proposed a $23.9 billion operating budget for the 2011 fiscal year that would grow by a little more than 3 percent from the spending plan currently in place. It would do so relying on nearly $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds, some of which Missouri is not guaranteed to receive. Nixon's budget assumes Missouri will get about $300 million if Congress extends the federal stimulus payments to states by an additional six months.
Although Missouri has avoided the financial meltdown that has occurred in some states, "we still face sober -- very sobering -- financial challenges," Nixon said.
The Democratic governor received a bipartisan standing ovation from lawmakers as he called upon them to pass what he dubs his "2010 Jobs Plan." Missouri has lost 89,000 jobs since January 2008, according to Nixon's budget figures. And at 9.6 percent, its unemployment rate -- while slightly lower than the national average -- is at its highest mark in more than 26 years.
"Our mission is clear: We must keep the jobs we have, and create thousands more," Nixon said. "We must build a granite foundation for Missouri's future growth. And we must balance the budget without raising taxes."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)