The St. Louis Regional Chamber wrapped up the second half of its successful 2014 Speakers Series on November 6th. The Speakers Series, which gives business leaders the opportunity to hear from the most prominent political figures in the state, hosted Governor Jay Nixon, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, former Speaker of the Missouri House Catherine Hanaway and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in 2014. The speakers described their vision of government and economic development across the region to the hundreds of Chamber members and their guests who attended the series.
Governor Nixon Highlights Agenda, Warns of Budget Challenges
Missouri Governor Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon opened the fall portion of the 2014 series, laying out three priorities for his remaining two years in office. He told those in attendance he will push to maintain affordable higher education for all Missourians, expand access to healthcare through Medicaid transformation, and support entrepreneurship in Missouri to drive job growth.
Offering strong words for the Republican-controlled legislature, which he characterized as “blowing up its own budget,” Nixon cautioned that the kinds of programs Missouri needs to grow economically are not free. The Governor told Chamber members the legislature had to choose between investment in worker training, pre-K programs, startup business and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum or cutting taxes, as it is not possible to do both.
The Governor also congratulated the business community for its part in helping Ferguson recover from recent events, such as Centene Corporation’s announcement of a claim processing facility opening in Ferguson that will bring 200 new jobs to the city.
Schweich Highlights Improvements to the Auditor's Office
Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich
Former Senator and Ambassador John Danforth introduced Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich, whom he had worked with while he was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Danforth noted that while politics has always been a contact sport, he views today’s polarized political environment as particularly difficult. He said government is now mostly paralyzed and praised Schweich for being able to navigate the current winds to get things done.
In his own remarks, Schweich highlighted the innovations he has brought to the Missouri State Auditor’s office including a rapid response team for instances of credible allegations of fraud and destruction of evidence, the implementation of a grading system for audits, the initiation of follow up audits after 90 days to improve compliance, and a focus on catching and preventing embezzlement.
Auditor Schweich announced that he would begin audits of municipal courts who may be violating “Macks Creek Law” in relying too heavily on traffic fines for their budgets, a policy matter that has recently resurfaced as an important topic. Criticizing Governor Nixon’s use of the budget withholds, Schweich gave his full support to Amendment 10, which will be on the November 2014 ballot. Amendment 10 would provide new constraints on the Missouri Governor’s withhold powers.
Hanaway Outlines Policy Priorities for 2016 Governor’s Race
Former Missouri Speaker Catherine Hanaway
On October 21st, the Regional Chamber hosted former U.S Attorney, former Speaker of the Missouri House and announced 2016 gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway. Hanaway outlined six priorities she would focus on as governor, including economic development and promotion of Missouri to both the U.S. and the globe, fending off Washington regulators, finding and developing quality jobs in Missouri, further developing Missouri as a transportation hub, and leading the legislature rather than “playing small ball.” Hanaway also said she plans to make Missouri the top state in terms of agribusiness, including animal health and biotechnology.
The Republican candidate, who currently works as an attorney for St. Louis firm Husch Blackwell, told Chamber members she would hold a hard line against regulations flowing from Washington by putting a freeze on all but emergency regulations if she is elected to office. She expressed her opposition to expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, pointing out that she had seen what the expansion in the 1990’s had done to Missouri’s budget in the 2000’s. Hanaway said she preferred to work directly with hospitals to find a Missouri solution to the problem of uninsured individuals rather than the federal program.
Enterprise Holdings Vice President Ray Wagner introduced Hanaway, noting she was the first and only woman Speaker of the Missouri House, holding the leadership position from 2002-2004. Wagner highlighted her long career in Missouri politics, starting as a staffer for Senator Kit Bond, serving in the Missouri House, and managing President George W. Bush’s statewide campaign operations in 2000.
Attorney General Koster Details Plans for Economic Development in Missouri
Attorney General Koster Explains His Economic Development Plan
The 2014 Speakers Series finished strong on November 6th with a detailed policy speech from Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Koster gave the business leaders in the audience his vision for economic development in Missouri. Saying it is important to first recognize what is going well, the Attorney General said Missouri has a number of key strengths including its central location, low cost of living, strong transportation system, AAA bond rating, high quality of life, and a number of industry clusters including agriculture, life and plant sciences, financial services and defense. However, he lamented the fact Missouri was the 45th slowest-growing state in 2013 and said Missouri needed to become one of the top 10 most business-friendly states going forward. Koster said this goal fit well with Missouri’s native “character” – fiscally conservative, support of light regulation and small government, and with low taxes. But he cautioned that attempts to make Missouri more business-friendly must be done in a systematic manner rather than simply with piecemeal tax cuts.
Koster detailed a multi-pronged approach to boosting Missouri’s economic development capabilities, most of which he suggested funding through an increase to Missouri’s tobacco tax. Noting the state needed to make good on its promises to students, he said 50% of the tax increase should go to increase funding for Missouri’s K-12 Foundation Formula. He advocated for the development of a closing fund in Missouri, commenting the lack of such a fund means there are “tables we don’t sit at,” and suggested 25% of the tax increase should go to this fund. He called for an increase in Missouri Technology Corporation funding to $50 million—which would put Missouri on par with Indiana’s efforts—and allocated 15% of the tax increase here. In addition, he said he supports efforts to fix and centralize services to small businesses in Jefferson City, said Missouri needs to fully fund its roads, and pointed to Lambert International Airport’s 2,800 unused acres as a potential economic engine for growth with the support of investment incentives. He also touched upon Medicaid expansion, calling it the most obvious economic development program in Missouri. Pointing out that the $2 billion in federal matching funds available under expansion is equal to 1% of Missouri’s annual GDP, Koster said, “there is a check sitting out in the mailbox” that the state should cash.
We look forward to a new season of the Speakers Series starting in the spring of 2015!