OSAGE BEACH, Mo. -- Confronting his political rivals Friday, Gov. Bob Holden accused leaders of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce of projecting a misleading, negative image about Missouri that is doing more harm than good to the state's business climate.
Speaking at a jobs summit sponsored by the chamber, the Democratic governor said local business leaders that he meets are upbeat and supportive of his plan to eliminate "tax loopholes" to raise money for education.
Yet the state Chamber of Commerce lobbied heavily against the plan, which the Republican-led legislature has refused to adopt.
Holden also criticized the state chamber for repeatedly touting the fact that Missouri lost 77,700 jobs in 2002 -- the largest loss in the nation. In fact, the figure was on the brochure containing the agenda for the conference.
Holden called the figure "misinformation" gleaned from an "arbitrary period" selected "for the very purpose of showing Missouri's economy in the worst possible light."
From March through August -- a current snapshot of Missouri's economy -- employers created 40,000 new jobs, Holden said.
"Missouri has many assets -- an attractive business climate, low taxes, high quality of life, and an excellent work force," Holden told more than 60 people sitting silently at the conference. "So I am confused as to why the leadership of our Missouri State Chamber of Commerce continues to talk down our Missouri economy."
State chamber president Dan Mehan called Holden's message a "full-frontal assault on the largest business association in the state of Missouri."
"The purpose of this conference was to try to bring people together" from business, education and government to try to create jobs, Mehan said. "What the governor did today was to come down here and try to tear it apart -- that's unfortunate."
Chamber officials stuck by their 2002 job loss figures, which were derived from the U.S. Department of Labor, as the most logical time frame to consider. They suggested Holden's March to August figure was more arbitrary and designed to exclude the job losses of January and February.
For example, from January through July, Missouri lost another 2,800 jobs on top of those lost last year, said Ray McCarty, the chamber's fiscal affairs director.
After Holden left, Mehan told the conference that Holden's criticism "doesn't change a thing."
"We stand firm by our positions," he said.