CHICAGO - Missouri's new Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, yesterday stressed the need for bipartisan cooperation to push through job-creation initiatives he said are needed to help revitalize the state's struggling economy.
"The challenges we face are historic. But so are the opportunities," Nixon, 52, said in his inaugural address after he was sworn in as the state's 55th governor. "Ladies and gentlemen, today marks a new day for Missouri ... we'll turn this economy around by making Missouri a magnet for next-generation jobs. We'll invest in new technology. We'll inspire cutting-edge innovation. And we'll embrace science, not fear it."
Nixon, who has served as attorney general since 1992, beat his Republican opponent Rep. Kenny Hulshof in the November election. Incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Blunt did not seek re-election.
The governor takes the reins of state government with the triple-A rated state facing up to a $623 million shortfall in its current fiscal 2009 budget, although a $280 ending balance from the last fiscal year could help efforts to eliminate the red ink.
Nixon has proposed putting a halt to any new long-term state contracts and delaying some building projects. As his administration works on a new budget, the Missouri Budget Project group has warned that the state could face a roughly $900 million deficit.
Nixon called job creation a top priority as his term begins. He laid out his proposals in a six-point plan dubbed Show Me JOBS late last month. Nixon wants to provide low-interest loans to small businesses through the Missouri Development Finance Board to spur job growth.
The governor would also expand an existing jobs program that provides training incentives by providing employers with tax credits. He also wants to create an automotive manufacturing task force to better educate workers on the production of fuel-efficient vehicles.
Republicans who control the Legislature's chambers have endorsed many of the proposals, paving the way for their early passage in the session. Nixon last week tapped public finance attorney Linda Martinez, a partner at Bryan Cave LLP, to shepherd his programs through as director of the Department of Economic Development. The Senate must confirm the pick.
Martinez's practice at Bryan Cave included real estate, project finance, public finance, public-private partnerships, and economic development.
"During these difficult economic times, we must do everything we can to support small businesses and help them create new jobs," Nixon said of Martinez's selection in a statement. "After years of working closely with businesses of all sizes, Linda Martinez understands the challenges entrepreneurs face, and she is ready to lead the fight to keep and create jobs here in Missouri."