Holden hits 'callous' Republican budget cuts

Saturday, April 3, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Democratic Gov. Bob Holden criticized a Republican budget plan to eliminate vacant state jobs as "callous and careless," suggesting it would harm the education of the deaf, blind and disabled.

A plan pending in the House Budget Committee would abolish more than 500 full- and part-time state jobs that have been empty for at least three months, saving the state an estimated $20 million.

Included in those cuts, Holden said Friday, would be 48 positions from state schools for the blind, deaf and disabled -- spots empty not because they are unnecessary but due to the difficulty in hiring teachers and therapists for lower-paying, higher-stress positions.

"This is a callous and careless way to balance the budget," Holden told media gathered for the annual meeting of The Associated Press Managing Editors and Missouri Society of Newspaper Editors.

"Did it not occur to these legislators that these positions are vacant because of the difficulty of the job?" Holden asked rhetorically.

Funding for some of the seemingly vacant positions also is used to pay substitute teachers, Holden said. Later Friday, Holden was appearing at the Gateway Hubert Wheeler School in St. Louis, which serves severely disabled students, to emphasize the potential effect of the cuts.

House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, in a telephone interview Friday, faulted Holden's administration for unclear budget practices that used money appropriated for state employees to instead pay contractors like substitute teachers or therapists.

Bearden, R-St. Charles, said he already had talked about the problem with officials at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and planned to restore funding for some of contracted positions, but not the truly vacant state jobs.

"It's unfortunate we don't have a governor who can manage the state's executive branch more efficiently," Bearden said.

House Republicans encountered a similar problem last June, when they sought to eliminate 1,185 middle-management positions in state government -- only to learn later that many of the job descriptions did not reflect what the employees actually did. Senators reversed many of those proposed cuts.

Both Bearden and Holden referenced last year's budget troubles, each trying to bolster their case of poor management by the other.

Holden pledged to opposed the Republicans' "latest bad idea."

"On some matters there can be no compromise," he said.

Budget bills are HB1001-1012

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