JEFFERSON CITY • After a freshman year of policy wins, rookie missteps and unfinished business, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens will embark on his sophomore campaign Wednesday with his second State of the State speech.
The self-described “outsider” Republican, who was sworn in to his first political office a year ago Tuesday, is set to address a joint session of the House and the Senate at 7 p.m.
The speech represents a kickoff to the GOP-controlled Legislature’s annual session and will give lawmakers and Missourians a sense of what the governor will be seeking in the coming four months.
The speech won’t include an outline of his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. New projections show revenue growing by just 2.5 percent, which will tamp down any talk of significant expansions to programs.
The lower revenue figure is partly because of changes to the federal tax code and lower state income tax rates that began taking effect Jan. 1.
In a statement, Greitens said, “I remain committed to maintaining a balanced budget while continuing to find ways to make a smaller government that works better for Missouri citizens.”
The speech is not only a look forward, but it gives Greitens a chance to tout what he sees as successes in the past year. For this year, his comments at various events signal he will again be pushing for pro-business changes to state law aimed at growing the economy.
The state’s unemployment rate currently sits at 3.4 percent. Greitens can point to his effort to bring 800 National Guard jobs to Missouri and a new steel mill in Sedalia as proof that he’s a job-friendly chief executive.
After pushing to make Missouri a “right to work” state last year, he also may keep his focus on rewriting union-backed labor laws, including eliminating wage requirements for public construction projects.
Greitens is expected to continue to call for easing regulations on businesses. At the session’s outset, the House is already poised to approve legislation that would make it easier for hair braiders to do business.
The former Navy SEAL also wants lawmakers to send him a proposed law to protect private employers from legal challenges if they give preference to veterans in hiring and promotions.
He’s also expected to call on the Senate to limit freebies lawmakers receive from lobbyists. An ethics measure won approval in the House last year, but ran aground in the Senate amid outcry over the governor’s alliance with a nonprofit group formed by his former campaign aides and allies called A New Missouri Inc.
The House is already primed to send the gift restriction legislation to the upper chamber.
Greitens likely will call for new laws regarding the state’s foster care system, which serves about 13,000 children. He and first lady Sheena Greitens made foster care a major cause in their first year.
Parker Briden, Greitens’ spokesman, earlier said the governor would lobby to allow foster teens to sign up for their own bank accounts.
Greitens also announced recently his support of a proposal that would lower the bar for firefighters who seek workers’ compensation after being diagnosed with cancer. A similar proposal failed last year.
While the governor’s budget proposal remains a work in progress, he could touch on some budget-related topics in the address.
Briden, for example, last month said the governor would soon present a “tax reform” package that could include a revamp of the state’s tax credit programs. In December, a state panel followed his lead and voted to ditch $140 million in low-income housing tax credits.
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, has sponsored a plan which would gradually phase out Missouri’s income tax, replacing most of the revenue lost with other money-makers and savings, such as capping tax credits and decoupling Missouri from the federal standard deduction.
“It would be very surprising if the governor didn’t talk about tax reform,” Eigel said. “We’ve had conversations with the governor’s office ... I’m thrilled to have the governor as part of that discussion.”
Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she hopes the governor would devote at least a few lines to fighting the opioid epidemic. She also noted a recent state-commissioned report stating that in regard to dealing with drug addiction, Missouri needed to transition from a “prison-focused” scheme to a “community-focused” system that could improve outcomes and help save the state from building two new prisons.
“I’m excited to hear what else he might have coming,” she said.
On education, the governor faces potential blowback in the Senate, where lawmakers are still sour after he orchestrated the ouster of state Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven. Greitens has offered few reasons for the firing, but he could expand on those in the speech.
The governor also has expressed support for expanding charter schools, increasing teacher pay, putting more money into classrooms and creating educational savings accounts for students.
House Assistant Minority Leader Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, said she expects Greitens’ speech to be heavy on rhetoric — aiding education, boosting ethics standards and helping the economy. What he will not mention, she said, is his fumbling of the Board of Education situation, his own ethics clouds and his signing of Senate Bill 43, which makes it harder to win lawsuits alleging discrimination.
She also said he could lace his speech with nods to his “outsider” brand.
“The outsider moves are a lack of transparency, unwillingness to let voters know where funding is coming from, lack of willingness to even maintain simple records on his cell phone,” she said. “I think that Missourians would probably rather have an insider that’s transparent than somebody that calls himself an outsider.”