Blunt spends about $75,000 on computers and telephones

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt has spent about $75,000 on new computers and phones for the governor's office, raising the total taxpayer cost for his office makeover to nearly $120,000.

Blunt's information technology director said Tuesday the old computers dated to the mid-1990s and couldn't support the latest antivirus programs and operating systems. The phones were last replaced in 1997.

"It's important to have equipment and tools that allow you to be effective in your job," Blunt said. "Sometimes expending money for technology makes sense. We had computers in this office, for example, that weren't capable of getting on the Internet."

The $58,354 in computer equipment includes 28 desktop computers with flat-screen monitors, nine laptop computers, nine printers, four Blackberry wireless e-mail devices and two fax machines, according to information provided by Dan Ross, Blunt's chief information officer.

The new telephones cost $17,620, but the state also saved $2,106 by canceling an annual maintenance plan that had been in place for the old phone system, said Nancy Bochat, the telecommunications manager in the Office of Administration.

Blunt, a Republican, campaigned last year on a pledge to make government more efficient.

Among other things, he has consolidated the state's information technology functions under Ross and created a commission to recommend government efficiencies.

Democrats alleged Tuesday that Blunt is acting hypocritically.

"This is just another example of the governor wanting state government to do what he says, not what he does," said state Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti.

"When he promised to eliminate waste in government on the campaign trail, most Missourians could reasonably assume that meant things like new phones and new computers," Cardetti added.

Democratic Rep. Ray Salva, of Sugar Creek, claimed Blunt has been dishonest about the cost of his office improvements.

In February, Blunt put out a news release noting the office spent $22,753 on new supplies and private labor for an office remodeling. But that did not include an additional $20,666 worth of ceiling tiles, carpet squares and light fixtures the state already had in stock, which also were installed in Blunt's office. At the time, Blunt did not mention the cost of the new computers and phones.

"I think his credibility is pretty well shot down the tubes when it comes to managing state money," said Salva, a member of the House appropriations committee that recommends funding for the governor's office. "He's made things very comfortable for himself in his office and made things very uncomfortable for the elderly in their homes."

Salva suggested Blunt could have better used the money to reduce his proposed cuts to such things as mental health care and the Medicaid eligibility thresholds for the elderly.

But Republican Rep. Jim Lembke, chairman of the General Administration Appropriations Committee, said it was not the Legislature's job to micromanage the purchases of the executive branch.

"The governor and his office assessed that they needed to improve the working conditions for the state workers in that office," said Lembke, of St. Louis. "I don't begrudge state workers having an environment that is conducive to doing their job and doing their job well."

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