Holden to call special session on budget

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state budget battle intensified Monday as Democratic Gov. Bob Holden said he would veto at least one spending bill and call a special session of the Republican-controlled legislature.

Leaders of the House and Senate accused Holden of playing politics with the budget and said a special session would be pointless.

Lawmakers ended the regular session Friday having passed a roughly $19 billion budget -- and without acting on Holden's proposals for asking voters to raise taxes and protect education, health programs and other services from cuts.

Holden said Monday he would veto the bill that funds mental health services and would bring lawmakers back to address a budget gap estimated by his office at $367 million. Republicans say the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is only about $12 million out of balance.

'Simply not acceptable'

"Sadly, I have been presented with a budget that does not reflect my values as a person, as a Missourian and as a governor," Holden said at a news conference where he was joined by children with disabilities.

"Even with drastic cuts, it fails to balance," he said. "It is simply not acceptable."

More vetoes were possible as Holden continued reviewing the dozen-plus bills that make up the budget. His office said late Monday that the governor would make another budget announcement this morning.

Holden did not indicate when lawmakers would be asked to return to work. A special session would cost about $98,000 a week.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder and House Speaker Catherine Hanaway were in Kansas City when the governor made his announcement and called a news conference to respond.

"Today more than anything else was a campaign kickoff for the campaign of terror that the governor is trying to win throughout the state, and win the campaign for tax increases," said Hanaway, R-Warson Woods.

"The governor will get back on his desk precisely the same budget that he has now," she said.

Later in the day, however, Hanaway suggested that $12 million in spending might have to be trimmed to balance the budget before it returns to Holden, whose relationship with the legislature she called "nonexistent."

Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said it was "shameful' that Holden would veto the bill containing money for the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Patty Henry, budget director for the mental health department, said the legislature's cuts would reduce services for 5,800 mentally retarded people and eliminate psychiatric services for 3,200 mentally ill adults and 800 emotionally troubled children.

Objected to specific cut

Holden objected specifically to a $4.7 million cut in community-based services for the mentally retarded and developmentally disabled whose families do not qualify for the government-run Medicaid program.

He also cited a $2.4 million reduction in community-based psychiatric services for adults and a $983,372 reduction in such services for children.

Loss of community services will lead more parents to place their children in costly mental health institutions, Holden said.

"I believe, if given the choice, Missourians will understand that support for these services is both compassionate and the most practical, cost-effective approach for our state," Holden said.

Additionally, Holden said the legislature's elimination of state family planning grants would deny primary health care for about 30,000 women.

State records dating to 1931 show that no governor has ever vetoed an entire budget bill, although some have used their authority under the Missouri Constitution to veto specific expenditures.

Special legislative sessions can last a maximum of 60 days under the state constitution.

Holden last called a special session in September 2001, after lawmakers failed to agree during the regular session on a prescription drug plan for the elderly. They quickly passed a prescription drug bill during the special session.

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