Gov. Holden sets the tone

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Note: The complete text of Gov. Bob Holden's State of the State Address can be read on or (Thursday, Jan. 22).

Holden's address had three parts, which is not unusual, but the third part was dramatically different in tone.

The first part addressed those in attendance at the joint legislative session:

"I come before you today to discuss the state of our state -- and to reflect on the state of state government and the state of bipartisanship in Missouri.

"At a time of great challenge for our nation, both here and abroad, we in Missouri have seen our share of hardship and sacrifice. A great number of our citizens have left home and family in the service of our country, including the brave volunteers who serve in Missouri's National Guard.

"That is why I think it's important today to begin with a remembrance of those Missouri citizens who have fallen during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Their sacrifice is a reminder that here in the safety of our capital city, our disagreements should never be characterized as battles, but rather as the actions of a democracy that these soldiers gave their lives defending. And we are forever in their solemn debt."

Honoring our soldiers

He then read the names of Missouri soldiers who died during the Iraqi conflict and called for a moment of silent prayer.

Holden continued:

"It is with a heavy heart that we remember these young men of Missouri -- some of our finest. And we are humbled by their bravery.

"For those of us in this chamber, let us respect their sacrifice by putting our own disagreements in proper perspective. In the heat of political debate, it is not uncommon to hear the language of war.

"As if partisan politics could be compared to the ultimate sacrifice on a battlefield. It can't. And all of us know that. I call upon each and every one of us to begin anew -- to put reason before rancor and to recognize just how fortunate we all are.

"Let us look to the families of these heroic soldiers, gathered here in our gallery. We honor you and pledge our unrelenting efforts for shared progress for every citizen of Missouri.

"As we head into this new year, we face many difficult questions. But as many of you know, I am an optimistic man.

"It is my nature to see the good in people and to seek common ground on difficult questions. So before I address the challenges ahead, let's take a moment to look at the health of our state and the growing strength of our economy.

"At a time when our nation is just beginning to emerge from one of the darkest recessions in memory, Missouri is in sound economic condition."

In part two of his speech, Holden listed a number of achievements under his leadership and praised House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder for their help in keeping the Ford plant in Hazelwood, Mo.

He observed that the economy and jobs were picking up in Missouri faster than neighboring states by specific references to data and industries.

In part three, the tone changed. In the last half of his seven-page speech, Holden addressed the opposition party. He signaled the change by stating:

"But unfortunately -- and you knew I was coming to this -- last year the talents of our people were indeed sold short.

"For the first time in the history of our state, this legislature cut the total education budget by hundreds of millions of dollars and endangered the futures of countless children. Over the last decade, we had been investing in our public schools and getting results.

"Our eighth grade students are above the national average in math skills, we have made significant gains in reading proficiency, our ACT scores continue to rise, and we have 176 schools of distinction when measured on our scale of tough standards. More of our students are taking a rigorous curriculum, we've more than doubled the number of nationally certified teachers, and our schools are being held accountable with school report cards.

"But after a decade of investment and progress, you passed last year's education cuts twice over my veto with a great flourish of bravado. If last year's education cuts are allowed to stand, all of these gains are in great jeopardy. There is nothing moral in raising standards and expectations at a struggling school only to deny the necessary funding. Look at this through a child's eyes -- first we encouraged them to dream, then you denied them the means. That's not bravado. That's just cruel. Those of you on the other side of the aisle chose to defend tax breaks for corporations at the expense of our children's education. And we're already seeing the consequences of your actions.

"College tuition is up as much as 20 percent. One thousand four hundred teachers have lost their jobs. Some kindergarten classes have over 30 students, and alternative schools for disruptive students are being shut down. This, of course, leads to more disruption in the classroom and higher dropout rates.

Education funding

"Some of you obviously think there is courage in cutting education funding. But where is the courage in merely shifting the burden onto local property owners? Where is the courage in forcing your local constituents to raise property taxes to make up the difference? And where is the courage in siding with gambling and tobacco interests over the welfare of our children in public schools? Your failure to meet your constitutional obligations has caused the courts to be dragged back into Missouri schools.

"Many of you preach the politics of less government. Well, you brought the courts into our classrooms. It's time you take responsibility and help get the lawyers and the lawsuits out.

"Let us be frank and realistic about public school funding. Your approach will have the consequence of forcing local property tax increases.

"Some in this chamber may live in communities of great means. And as you look out the windows of your home, a small increase in property taxes may not seem like much of a sacrifice. But you are wrong. Every community has those on the margins who are barely surviving -- who can hardly afford the property taxes they already pay. Maybe you can't see them from your front window, but they exist all the same.

"Many communities will never be able to increase property taxes enough to make up for last year's education cuts.

"The ultimate end of your abdication of duty is starvation and consolidation. By starving local communities of education funding, you leave some with no other choice but to shut down schools and deprive those children of opportunity.

"You may not see these children from the comfort of your front window. But they exist all the same. And, finally, there are seniors throughout Missouri who cannot afford higher property taxes, even though their hearts are with our schools. They, like my parents and some of yours, sacrificed their entire lives to provide their children with a college education. Often it was an education that they themselves never had.

Real and lasting harm

"You may never see these seniors from your window. But they exist all the same. You have asked in this chamber before -- 'what part of "No" do I not understand?' Well, I say in return that I will never understand doing real and lasting harm to our children and seniors. I believe our citizens deserve better than that.

"Last year, we disagreed on whether Missouri had a spending problem or a revenue problem. Let's not have that disagreement again. Throughout my years as Governor, I have worked to control spending. I have cut more than 3,000 jobs from state government and over $1.2 billion in government spending -- more than any other Governor in Missouri history.

"Missouri is not a free spending state. In fact, we rank 46th in per capita spending and 49th in the average salary of our government employees.

"During last year's budget debate, I accepted every cut you put forward, and still you could not provide me with a balanced budget without devastating education. You cut all the fat you could find, so cutting was clearly not the entire solution.

"This year, I will continue my efforts to reduce waste and improve government efficiency. In fact, I have identified another $100 million in program and service reductions that are part of my overall plan to balance our budget.

"But the essence of our problem is unchanged. Yes, we have reached agreement on projected revenue for next year. But they won't be near enough to repair the damage that you have done to Missouri schools.

"If we are to meet our responsibilities to educate our children, we will need additional revenue through the least painful means. I will not rest until we have restored the funding you cut from schools in this state. If you thought this issue was settled, think again.

(About here, House Speaker Pro Tem (and former Marine) Rod Jetton yelled out from his seat: "Release the funds, Governor!" He was joined by an ovation from Republican legislators).

"You already know my plan to raise revenue -- increasing the cigarette tax and casino taxes, closing corporate loopholes, and placing a small surcharge on the income tax of the wealthiest 1.4 percent of Missourians."

"You've heard my plan before. And you have spoken. But the vast majority of Missourians haven't spoken. Your refusal to allow our citizens to vote on this plan robs them of their voice and of their opportunity to succeed.

"I think Missouri is better than that. One way or another, the education cuts you inflicted last year must not stand. I say this not to stand against you -- but because I have a duty to stand up for Missouri's children. By increasing revenues and closing corporate loopholes, we can restore school funding without a general tax increase. We can add the money necessary to improve our foster care system without a general tax increase.

"And we can give modest raises to our state workers -- like those who work in foster care or child abuse prevention. Some have not seen a cost of living increase in three years. Keep in mind our state employees are working people who face the same challenges and needs as any other working person, and they deserve our respect. They are not simply expendable boxes on an organizational chart.

"Even those professionals that some of you belittle as 'middle management bureaucrats' -- they keep this complex operation running, and they protect our citizens. State employees are being asked to do more with less every year.

"My budget, while providing additional cuts, does give a slight raise to these hard working Missourians, and believe me, when the lives of our most vulnerable are at stake, keeping our best people on the job is not asking too much.

"I believe in looking forward. And that is a part of our shared history in Missouri.

"As you know, I often speak in these State of the State addresses from the perspective of history. And this year, we celebrate one of our country's most historic events -- the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's incredible journey. Their exploration of the Missouri River is a truly inspiring tale of heroism and daring. In spite of many obstacles, they pressed forward on their journey west.

"But today, I think it is important to honor the heroes of our time -- seemingly ordinary people who perform extraordinary service. The soldiers we honored today knew the dangers of their job. But they got up every day, pressed forward, and faced them anyway. ...

We all have a calling

"I believe each of us has a calling. For those soldiers, it was defending something larger than themselves. For our teachers, it's rising to the challenge of shaping our youngest, most vulnerable minds.

"For our state workers, it's securing the safety and well-being of our citizens.

"And for our citizens, it's helping secure a brighter future for generations to come.

"For those of us in this chamber, our calling is simple -- we must work together to move Missouri forward. This is not a battlefield. It's public service. No more talk of war. Let us talk of getting something done for the people of Missouri. ...

I leave it up to you to decide if this speech was one made to set the tone for a positive legislative session or the first step into this year's political campaign.

Gary Rust is the chairman of Rust Communications.

[ Click here for the Governor's full text and other analysis ]

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