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Parson talks infrastructure and drought at the Missouri State Fair

Gov. Mike Parson takes questions from reporters after hosting the annual Governor's Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair.
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Mike Parson takes questions from reporters after hosting the annual Governor's Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair.

Although Mike Parson has been a regular fixture at the Missouri State Fair for several years, the 2018 fair is his first as governor of the state.

And he spent much of Thursday preaching the need to improve infrastructure to help the state’s agriculture industry.

Parson told fairgoers that Missouri not only needs to improve its roads and bridges, but also fix up its rail, airports, river ports, utilities and broadband access.

“That has to be a priority of the state of Missouri for us to move forward,” he said. “If you want to bring new businesses here, and you want our kids and our grandkids to have the opportunities a lot of us had, you got to focus on that.”

More than 1,000 people attended the annual Governor's Ham Breakfast Thursday at the Missouri State Fair.
Credit Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
More than 1,000 people attended the annual Governor's Ham Breakfast Thursday at the Missouri State Fair.

Parson is supporting the fuel-tax hike on the Missouri ballot as part of the solution, and he said there’ll be a detailed plan on how the additional revenues would be used if voters pass it in November.

“Nobody in this state is going to go out there and give anybody a blank check,” he said. “We’re going to have to go out there and work and explain to people what we’re going to do with [these] funds, and how we’re going to do it.”

It would gradually raise the fuel tax by 10 cents over the next four years, from the current 17 cents-a-gallon to 27 cents-a-gallon by the year 2022.

The group is backing the proposal, known as Proposition D. Their spokesman, Scott Charton, said it would provide at least $288 million for improvements to state-maintained road and bridges, and $124 million for local projects.


Parson, along with other elected officials, are monitoring the severe drought plaguing most of Missouri.

He told reporters at the fair Thursday that it’s been especially hard on cattle ranchers, including himself, who’ve had to break into their hay supplies to feed the cattle:

“I have never fed hay in August before in my entire farming career — and that started out as a little boy — but I did last Saturday,” Parson said. “It’s hard-hit in a lot of areas of the state, so if you’ve been in one of those areas that hasn’t had any rain, it’s tough right now.”

Credit National Drought Mitigation Center at the Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

One possible antidote to drought-induced hay shortages is to allow property owners to harvest hay on sections of land they own but are currently off-limits due to conservation rules.

Gloria Spillman, 58, is a retired teacher turned cattle rancher in rural Harrison County and wants state and federal officials to allow her and other ranchers to harvest hay on Conservation Reserve Program lands.

“They have already released the traditional CRP acres for haying and grazing, which we really appreciate, however it’s not enough to help us right now,” Spillman said. “We are so short of hay and water for livestock right now that many producers in our area are selling off their cattle, reducing their herd sizes.”

CRP lands are used to support deer, rabbit and other wildlife, along with bee and butterfly populations.

The latest drought monitor shows a large section of northern Missouri under the worst drought conditions.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Copyright 2018 St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.