Nixon outlines broad plan for federal money

JEFFERSON CITY | Gov. Jay Nixon vowed Wednesday to seek every dollar possible from the federal economic stimulus plan and pledged to use it to transform Missouri's economy.

The Democratic governor outlined broad categories of emphasis for Missouri's estimated $4.3 billion share of the money, but offered no specific details about how much he hopes to spend in each area. That will be coming later, Nixon said.

"These federal funds give us a tremendous opportunity to put thousands of Missourians back on the job and at the same time we'll be fundamentally changing our economy to help it grow and become competitive in the 21st century," Nixon said.

Nixon said he wants to focus the money on:

  • Developing "human capital," which he defined to include improvements at public schools and job training programs for both youths and adults.
  • Enhancing Missouri's infrastructure, including transportation projects and an expansion of high-speed Internet into more rural areas of the state.
  • Attracting technology-based jobs, which he said includes an emphasis on the life sciences, green energy projects such as the wind turbines and biomass burners, and other high-tech manufacturing sectors.
  • Those general areas all are a part of the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

    Although some parts of the stimulus package direct money to states based on a formula, such as through the Medicaid health care program for the poor, other sections require states to apply for the money. Nixon vowed Missouri would be aggressive.

    "We're ready to compete, we're going to be first, we're going to lead the way," Nixon said. "As long as I'm your governor, we won't forfeit these dollars to other states when we should be using them to get Missourians back to work."

    For example, Nixon said the federal law includes $7 billion that can be awarded to states for the extension of high-speed Internet capabilities. He said 1.3 million Missourians don't have broadband Internet, making it a prime category for Missouri to draw down federal money.

    Missouri also could compete for money to expand its electric grids, so that they could carry power from the potential addition of wind turbines in northwest Missouri, Nixon said.

    Earlier Wednesday, the Missouri Senate gave initial approval to legislation creating special state accounts to receive the federal stimulus money.

    Legislative budget writers want to make sure the money is tracked separately from other funds, both for federal accountability purposes and to identify areas dependent on the money when it runs out.

    Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, compared his legislation to the labels on prescription drug containers that describe the dosage a patient is to receive. The alternative, Nodler said, would be like buying heroin from a drug dealer on the street.

    "One of them is likely to make you well, the other is likely to kill you," Nodler said.

    Many Republican lawmakers are leery of using the federal money to expand state government or of plugging too much of it into ongoing programs that then could lack a funding source when the stimulus money runs out in a couple of years.

    Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said the federal money seems to be an attempt by the Democrats in charge of Washington to expand government.

    "The more I learn about this recovery act, the more it scares me," Crowell said.

    Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, also expressed concerns about using the federal money.

    "When government is in the business of trying to outlaw recessions, that's when we ensure recessions are longer and deeper," Bartle said.