Missouri’s governor reflects on stewardship, the economy, SBC/MBC Disaster Relief
May 2, 2006
Palmeri: Governor, we wanted to ask you how our readers can pray for you when it comes to plant sciences, Hungary, Monsanto, the Danforth Plant Science Center and the future of Missouri’s trade relations with such nations as the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic?
Blunt: Okay, that’s an interesting question and I believe in some specificity in prayer, so – plant science. It’s interesting you would bring that up because plant science is really an area where Missouri is a global leader because of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the Danforth Plant Science Center, a company like Monsanto, and the University of Missouri at Columbia, which is the national center for soybean research. So, we’re a real leader in plant sciences and it’s actually in the area of life sciences one of the most promising, and has the added benefit that there’s none of these other issues (like embryonic stem cell research) that surround some other bio technologies.
There is actually some stem cell research with plants. Nobody’s ever indicated there’s an issue with that. So, that’s an area I think we can all agree to focus on and an area that has tremendous promise for our state. In terms of expanding our relationships with those nations, I think Missourians should pray that Missouri would be ethical in her dealings, that there would be real synergies that would develop out of the partnership and that people of faith would have opportunities to share their faith with colleagues that might develop through those relationships.
Palmeri: What has been the primary influence on your vision for the economic future of Missouri – the Scriptures, your family, your training as a Naval officer or some other factor?
Blunt: I think it’s definitely a combination of all those things. I think many of the strengths of the American economy today – personal responsibility, things we need to strengthen today, things we need to strengthen for the future, initiative, hard work, a strong work ethic, taking care of one another through the church and through the community – those are all tenets of Scripture and they are a very important part of our economic fabric. I certainly had a good family of very hard-working people. They were a good model which is something many of us are blessed with and take for granted.
We have unfortunately in our nation, and in our state, literally people that are in their second or third generation of having not worked because they’re in a welfare culture. Just the example of work, which again you or I and so many other people probably just took for granted as something you would witness growing up, is something they have not been exposed to. I think it would be a variety of all those (factors). Obviously I have a political and ideological philosophy that the government should try and be small and not place an undue burden on the economy. As you pointed out, it’s Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, and I think that’s a Jeffersonian principle.
Palmeri: As we meet today on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, you know Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore a vast economic treasure by means of the Missouri River. How would you describe the scope of economic exploration that you, as our governor, have been a part of in your first two years in office?
Blunt: I think we’ve made significant improvements. Everybody, I think, agrees with me, significant improvements in the day-to-day cost of being an employer in our state. And Missourians are responding to that better environment. We’ve created 35,000 jobs since I took office as governor. Unemployment in Missouri went from 5.9 percent to 4.7 percent. That is the largest decrease in unemployment of any state in the country. No state has had as significant a change in their unemployment figures as Missouri has had since I took office and we’ve begun to make those changes. Unemployment is at its lowest level it’s been since prior to September 11, 2001. So, I think we’re making real changes in terms of just the day-to-day cost of being an employer.
We do have our own Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative which allows us to make some significant investments in our health science, in animal health science, and in plant science research capabilities, and do so in a way that doesn’t increase the tax burden, in a way that actually enhances opportunities for Missourians to go and attend public colleges and universities. So, the spirit of discovery that was exhibited by Lewis and Clark and their journey, the Corps of Discovery, is still very alive and well—very much alive and well in Missouri today.
Palmeri: Missouri, of course, is in the process of approving a $21 billion budget. What is your vision for the type of budgets that our state can sustain in 2007, 2008 and 2009?
Blunt: We’re going to work to control spending. I think we’re doing that effectively. Actually, the budget I submitted this year was the first budget in eight years that requested funding for fewer than 60,000 employees. I mentioned that unemployment is declining everywhere. We’re seeing employment grow in virtually every sector of our economy. The one exception is government employment. It is the one place we’ve not seen a growth in employment because we’re so focused on doing more with less, demanding efficiency and working with state employees to be a more efficient operation. So, we’re going to try to control growth and actually diminish, reduce the costs—the day-to-day operating costs of government—control our growth in spending in social welfare programs, and make investments in education that really do have some significant long-term ramifications.
I was just at a world biotechnology conference in Chicago and one of their big questions in terms of moving to Missouri any type of health science company or plant science company is about the quality of education, the availability of a strong work force. We need to make investments in education to be competitive in the global economy. On April 25 (we had) a math and science summit. We need to have a focus on math and science. By 2010, 90 percent of the engineers and scientists in the world will live in Asia. We’ve had a 20 percent decline in the number of Americans graduating with an engineering degree since 1985, and it’s not because we lack in natural aptitude for science, technology and mathematics. Actually in fourth grade, Americans do very well compared to their global peers—pretty close to the top in fourth grade compared to our global peers. But by the senior year in high school we don’t do very well at all, and that’s significant. Whether we like it or not, we’re in a very complicated economy, a complicated technical and technologically driven world. We need people that have a solid understanding of basic math and basic science just to hold the most basic of positions in the future.
Palmeri: I’m going to deviate a little bit with a follow-up on that. What did you learn about the complicated international economy when you were in Europe? Tell us a few things you may have learned about how complicated this is.
Blunt: I went to two countries I’d never been to before. I’d never been to the Czech Republic and I’d never been to Hungary. I ended up actually in Rome, then Brussels and then the United Kingdom. But there are almost two different Europes. I think one thing you pick up on in Europe is that the Czech Republic and Hungary are more focused on growth, economic opportunity. To be honest they are more pro-United States than the rest of Western Europe. Not to diminish our allies, (but) Italy is probably our strongest and most important ally in continental Europe. But there’s almost different Europes.
In “old Europe” to use Don Rumsfeld’s phrase, they’ve got some significant economic problems. We’ve seen in France where they have double-digit unemployment. Unemployment amongst young people is probably 20 percent. Unemployment amongst young people in some suburbs is probably over 40 percent. They have some real challenges. You thought we have problems. They’ve got some much bigger economic challenges than we do because they are trying to sustain a social welfare system that’s not sustainable. It’s not possible for a 35-hour or in some cases a 32-hour work week … it’s not enough in this whole economy we live in today. So, in Europe I think you see countries that are trying and struggling to keep up with us and the rest of the global economy.
Clearly, I’m hopeful to have opportunities to travel in other parts of the world where they do have a much faster growing economy. It gives you a sense of challenge as well because our real economic challenges obviously are China and India and again they’ve got some math and science and technical fields. They are investing a lot of resources in math and science and technical fields.
Palmeri: It sounds like you were thankful to come back to the Missouri economy in a lot of ways.
Blunt: It’s great to be back, always great to be back. It’s nice to travel sometimes, but always great to be back in Missouri. Missouri is home. We’re so blessed to live in the United States, but I think perhaps even a little more blessed to live in Missouri. It’s a great place with great communities.
I was out and had to see some devastating damage in our state, in Caruthersville and Braggadocio. I was in Nixa. Lt. Gov. (Peter) Kinder was kind enough to travel to Perry County and Sedalia. He was kind enough to make some other visits. It’s devastating to see the storm damage, but we have the best in Missourians. I think Southern Baptists can take pride in what they do in response to disaster. I think they were involved in responding to all those disasters but very importantly in Caruthersville and Braggadocio. I know they were immediately there serving hot meals to people that had just seen their entire lives get blown away and in some cases lost a family member or beloved friend. So Southern Baptists were there responding and I think Southern Baptists in Missouri can take pride in what they do to help their fellow citizens to get through a natural disaster. That’s really, I think, indicative of the spirit of Missourians.
Palmeri: As you work, governor, to make sure that Missouri will be a prosperous state in the years to come, how can our readers pray for you?
Blunt: Ask for wisdom, that I’d have a sense of fairness and a sense of equity as we approach questions of economics and that we would try to find the right balance for incentives so that we do encourage employers to come to Missouri but also don’t spend taxpayer dollars in a way that would be excessive. Pray that we would be able to explain what can sometimes be complicated (pertaining to the economy) and that I would be able to explain what can sometimes be complicated economic issues to Missourians that they’d understand where we’re headed and why it’s necessary to alter things like our Workers Compensation system or our litigation environment if we’re going to be competitive with other states.