Holden fund proposal faces battle

Sunday, January 27, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Tapping the state's rainy day fund to come up with $135 million for programs in his proposed state budget will prove a steep hill for Gov. Bob Holden to climb, and he knows it.

Accessing the revenue will require two-thirds approval of members in each legislative chamber. That comes to 109 votes in the House of Representatives and 23 in the Senate.

With Democrats holding 82 House seats and 15 Senate seats, strong bipartisan consensus is vital for success.

"I think it will be tough," Holden said. "There are a lot of people who want an easy solution with no pain. The rainy day fund is set up for a rainy day. This is a rainy day for Missouri."

Republicans, however, are uneasy about tapping the fund, which was last used to respond to the floods of the early 1990s. House Minority Floor Leader Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, suggested that the state Constitution may prohibit the governor from asking for the money under the current circumstances.

Hanaway said the Constitution allows the fund to be used only in an emergency or when appropriations exceed revenue in the budget. Since the General Assembly has yet to pass the fiscal year 2003 budget, Hanaway said Holden can't claim the budget is out of balance.

Nor would Hanaway characterize wanting to spend more money than available as an emergency.

"This is very difficult time -- and I don't mean to downplay it too much -- but it's not a crisis," Hanaway said.

Democratic House Speaker Jim Kreider of Nixa disagrees with the minority leader, repeatedly labeling the state's budget situation as a "crisis" last week. However, even he's not confident a supermajority can be achieved in the House, where the budget process begins.

"One thing is for certain: If you don't ask, you sure won't know," Kreider said.

Programs Holden wishes to pay for from the rainy day fund include Amtrak, assistance to local port authorities, mass transit, substance abuse services and newborn screenings. He said tapping the fund, which would have to be repaid within three years, is the only option.

"If the money is not there, we can't fund these programs," Holden said.

Union unhappy

A key labor union, usually among Holden's staunchest supporters, is among those displeased with the governor's proposed budget.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is unhappy that Holden's budget -- for the second straight year -- includes no pay raises for state workers, some of whom are AFSCME members.

"At a time when recruiting state workers should be a top priority, this budget penalizes workers for their service to the state by dramatically raising their health care costs and cutting staff from already understaffed departments," said Paula Bentley, director of AFSCME's Missouri branch.

Holden said regretted that fiscal realities prevented pay raises from making the budget.

Lee Kling returns

S. Lee Kling, a favorite target of GOP lawmakers, will serve as an unpaid advisor to Holden on budget, economic development, homeland defense and strategic planning issues.

Kling, merchant banker in St. Louis, left the Missouri State Highways and Transportation Commission when his six-year term ended in October. Republicans, who blamed Kling's leadership for broken promises at the Department of Transportation, didn't mourn his departure.

The announcement of Kling's role as a voluntary advisor came from the Missouri Democratic Party, not the governor's office. Kling is a top Democratic fund raiser.

Second chance for vets

World War II veterans who missed out on receiving honorary medals from the state may get a second chance.

The House on Thursday gave first-round passage to a bill that would allow veterans to apply for the medals until Jan. 1, 2003. The original deadline expired this month.

However, the Missouri National Guard, which administers the program, has about 500 applications that came in after the deadline, with more expected to arrive. Of the 120,000 Missouri veterans eligible for the honors, only about 25,000 applied for and received them.

Statehouse hopeful

Butler County Commissioner Robert L. Myers established a campaign committee last week to replace state Rep. Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. Myers, also a Republican, is the first to launch a bid for the 154th District seat, which represents a large portion of Butler County.

Richardson is one of five Southeast Missouri House members being forced out this year by term limits.

Collective bargaining suit

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Brown III has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 4 on a motion to reconsider his dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Bob Holden's executive order on public employee collective bargaining.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Gir-ardeau, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which Brown dismissed with prejudice last month. Kinder expects Brown to uphold his earlier decision, paving the way for an appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District in Kansas City.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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