Holden calls for peace in speech

Gov. Bob Holden’s State of the State address Jan. 21, began with sympathy directed to the fallen soldiers from the state of Missouri.

Holden said Missouri leaders should not compare politics to war.

“Let us begin anew and put reason above rancor,” he said. “Let us pledge unrelenting efforts for shared progress for every citizen of Missouri.”

Later in his address, however, Holden switched gears from that of a bipartisan discussion to more of a politically motivated speech.

He directed his attack at Republican legislators concerning controversial funding issues in education.

“Some of you obviously think there is courage in cutting education funding,” Holden said.

“But where is the courage in merely shifting the burden onto local governments? Where is the courage in forcing your local constituents to raise property tax? And where is the courage in siding with gambling and tobacco interests over the welfare of our children in public schools?”

Holden said he would not rest until funding was restored.

During his address, Holden was interrupted by House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hills.

“Release the funds governor,” Jetton said.

Veteran statehouse observers said it was the first time they could remember such an outburst during the governor’s State of the State address.

Holden proposed a package of tax increases that would raise $635 million per year.

At his news conference following his address, Holden said he hoped to fund education through what he termed the “least painful means possible” – increasing casino taxes and the cigarette tax (Missouri has the sixth lowest cigarette tax in the country); closing corporate loopholes; and raising the income tax on the top 1.4 percent of the population who earned more than $200,000 a year.

“Last year those of you on the other side of the aisle chose to defend corporate loopholes at the expense of our children’s education. You have to live with that vote,” Holden said.

He commented on the consequence of cuts to education made last year, the 1,400 teachers who lost their jobs, the 20 percent rise in college tuition, the overcrowding of public schools and the closing of alternative schools.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway made the Republican rebuttal to Holden’s address.

“You bring superintendents and teachers away form school and into the galleries only to cheer for tax increases when you fill the air with untruths, with half truths, misleading statements that your own budget book doesn’t bear out,” Hanaway said.

In her speech, Hanaway asked Holden where the courage was in misleading the citizens of Missouri.

Holden signed into law the state budget for 2004 which was passed by the legislature.

The budget increased funding to education by $186 million more than the money spent in 2003.

Representatives argued the governor is trying to cover his own cuts by referring back to the fiscal year 2003 appropriations and ignoring the $98 million he withheld from education that year. He cut education again this year by withholding $197 million from elementary and secondary schools.

After the addresses, Jetton picked up where he left off when he interrupted the governor’s address.

“We want to be partners with this Governor in solving the state’s toughest problems,” he said.

“We passed tort reform, foster care reform, unemployment compensation reform and small business regulatory relief, and the governor vetoed every one of these measures. We will keep trying to work with the governor. But, we will not leave these problems unaddressed.”

The question was raised whether or not his outburst in the middle of the State of the State address was appropriate.

“I’ve never made the kind of hurtful accusations that the governor did and if I ever do I would want some one to call me on it too.” Jetton said. “I can’t have him degrade us and tell untruths about us.”

Local politicians also voiced their opinions about the morning’s events.

“I was upset by the attitude and tenor of the Governor’s delivery,” said Rep. Bryan P. Stevenson (R-Webb City).

“It was not befitting the decorum of the House, and I was very disappointed by the attitude and the tactics taken.”

“I was very disappointed that the untruths were told. The legislature did not cut education. The legislature appropriated to education at the same level.

“The governor withheld $210 million from education that he still has available that he can currently release to education. Tax increases would not be necessary if he would release the funds appropriated last year.”

Stevenson said Holden’s budget office has documents which show the state has brought in more than 5.5 percent more revenue than last year in the first seven months.

Rep. Marilyn Ruestman called for a reevaluation of funds that are being spent.

“There are superintendents that retire, drawing full retirement and then are hired back on a salary,” Ruestman said.

“He made it pretty plain this morning that he wants to do battle, but wait a minute, he didn’t want a war, just a battle.”

It is not completely clear what if any decrease Missouri Southern State University will have in funding.