Tourism chief says Nixon cant block Tour of Missouri funding

Friday, July 10, 2009
Cyclists sprint for the finish line during stage seven of the Tour of Missouri cycling race on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008, in St. Louis, Mo. (AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

The decision of whether to fund the Tour of Missouri bicycle race rests with the Missouri Tourism Commission, not Gov. Jay Nixon, R.B. "Bob" Smith III, the interim director of tourism said today.

Nixon doesn't have any authority over specific spending items in the tourism budget once the commission is given a figure on how much money there is to spend promoting the state, Smith said.

The point is a fine legal one, but whether Smith is correct could determine the fate of the cross-state race, which is scheduled to have its third outing this fall, including a stop in Cape Girardeau Sept. 8. The only legal question, Smith said, is whether Nixon can order the Office of Administration, which handles the nuts-and-bolts operations of state government, to refuse to issue a check to the race organizers.

"The governor has the right to withhold money from us," Smith said. "He does not have, nor does the Department of Economic Development, have the right to tell us how to spend the money. That authority lies with the staff with the approval of the tourism commission."

The Tour of Missouri is threatened because Linda Martinez, director of the Department of Economic Development, sent a memo to the Office of Administration outlining how her department would cut $9.9 million from its budget. The memo put $1.5 million for the Tour of Missouri on the chopping block, potentially eliminating the state's sponsorship of the race.

As a result, funding for the race is frozen. Organizers and supporters of the race said Thursday that if the cut stands, the race will be canceled. The $1.5 million represents Missouri's commitment as the title sponsor of the race, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 7 in St. Louis. On Sept. 8, the cyclists were scheduled to race from Ste. Genevieve to Cape Girardeau.

But neither Nixon nor Martinez has the authority to block the money, Smith said.

When the economic development agency was ordered to cut $9.9 million, Martinez called on the tourism division to find $5.7 million of that amount out of its $23.5 million budget, Smith said. This morning, he said, he was told that the cut only had to be $3 million.

To make $5.7 million in cuts, Smith said he had planned to change from state employees to contract labor at visitors' centers and reduce advertising while preserving funding for the Tour. He said he was acting on standing orders from the commission to fund the race.

"The commission also has the authority to say, this bicycle race is a great deal, let's allocate $15 million," Smith said. "They could take and allocate whatever amount they choose to and they are the ones that have final authority over our expenditures."

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, chairman of the Tourism Commission, has made the Tour of Missouri his pet project. He takes a high-profile role in promoting the race and dedicates staff time from the lieutenant governor's office to the race. As the only Republican in a Missouri statewide office, he is seen as a likely candidate against Nixon, a Democrat, in 2012. The two have been at odds politically all year, and on KMOX radio on Thursday, Kinder said he has not had a "substantive conversation" with Nixon since November.

The Tourism Commission has a special meeting set for 2 p.m. today to approve the staff's latest budget plan, which restores the $2.7 million not being withheld, Smith said.

Another wrinkle in the uncertainty surrounding the race is the contractual status of the state's sponsorship. The Tourism Commission allocates money to sponsor the race and signs a sponsorship contract with Tour of Missouri Inc., a not-for-profit corporation set up to organize the race. No contract has been signed for this year's race, Smith said.

The papers are being prepared and he said he is under orders from the Tourism Commission to sign the contracts when they are ready.

"For me to say the state has a contract for the bicycle race would be incorrect," Smith said. "The plan was to sign a formal sponsorship contract immediately and we are in the process of getting all that paperwork drafted up."

The contract issue is a key point because Kinder, on KMOX, and Chris Aronhalt, managing partner of Medalist Sports, the company putting on the race, have said serious legal problems could result from breach of contract lawsuits if the race is canceled. "It doesn't seem to me to be a good business practice to incur all kinds of lawsuits that will result from a breach of contract," Kinder said.

Smith said the contract issue is a technicality and only the Tourism Commission can direct him to not sign the sponsorship agreement. "I have been ordered to do so. The only thing that would stop that would be if they rescinded their action to fund it."

For updates, check back at semissourian.com or read Saturday's Southeast Missourian.

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