Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday again said Missouri’s two biggest challenges are in infrastructure and workforce development.
To address the first of those, he urged voters to support an increase in the state’s gas tax, which goes to the voters as Proposition D on next Tuesday’s ballot. It would bump the tax from 17 cents a gallon to 27 cents over four years, the first increase in 22 years.
“That 17 cents that was passed in that day is worth seven cents today,” he told business leaders, local political leaders and others who filled the Independence Uptown Market for a luncheon event. The seven cents was a reference to inflation over the years and the state’s steadily eroding ability to keep up with the seventh largest state road system in the country.
He pointed out that one-fourth or more of the gas tax is paid by people passing through the state, that Missouri has the second-lowest gas tax in the country and that other states are able to draw down more federal money for roads than Missouri does. He’s made that case around the state for weeks, and this time he added a more urgent appeal.
“But I need you to go out, and I need you to talk to your friends. … And if you believe like I believe, we’ve got to sell it,” Parson said. “You’ve got to go out there and market it if you want Missouri to do well. That’s how it’s done.”
Once fully phased in, the tax would raise $412 million a year. Of that, 70 percent, or $288 million, goes to the state, and the rest, $124 million, comes back to cities and counties. That’s $1.84 million a year for Independence, $827,000 for Blue Springs and $202,000 for Grain Valley.
The governor, shortly after taking office in June, met with mayors around the state and visited many of Missouri’s poorest counties, and he said that underlined for him the state’s two biggest challenges.
“We’ve got to fix workforce development, and you’ve got to fix infrastructure in the state of Missouri,” he said. “Because these companies want to come. Those are the first things that they ask: What do you have available?”
He said it’s great that unemployment is low, but he said statewide the worker shortage is a hindrance.
“No matter where you go in the state of Missouri, we’re looking for good, qualified workers,” he said. “And we don’t have them.”
He called for more of an emphasis on two-year colleges, vocational education and other means of helping the two-thirds of Missourians without college degrees to find and hold better jobs. He said education needs to be rethought in many ways as well, with a more specific focus on job readiness.
“We have to start training our kids in school a different way,” he said.
He also took a moment to urge the civic leaders in the room to think about what past generations of Missourians did for them and what they owe to future generations.
“How do we help Missouri be better?” he asked. “And how do we make sure that the next generation has the same opportunity – (the) American dream – that all of us have had?”