Lawmakers holding party, say taxpayers won't foot bill

Saturday, December 7, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri lawmakers are throwing themselves a legislative ball next month but insist that taxpayers won't be paying the bill.

The House and Senate plan to host the ball on the evening of Jan. 8, the day the legislature begins its session. However, leading lawmakers said the ball will be paid for by private donations and out of lawmakers' own pockets.

Rep. Jason Crowell, the nominee for House majority floor leader, said Friday that the event could cost as much as $36,000.

The issue of legislative balls has been touchy ever since Gov. Bob Holden's $1 million inauguration celebration in 2001, which critics called excessive. Although Holden's party was partly funded by taxpayers, most of the money came from private donations.

Typically, legislative balls are held in years when there isn't an election for governor. In years when a governor is elected, an inaugural ball is held.

The last time a legislative ball was held at the Capitol was 1999, following the 1998 elections. That's when Democrats were in control of the Senate and House and the state's bank account was flush.

A bipartisan moment

This year, with Republicans in control of both chambers and the state budget in trouble, there has been a concerted effort to make sure no public money is spent on the ball.

"We think that with the tough budget situation as it is right now, taxpayers don't need to be paying for a celebration at the Capitol," said Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau. "It's a big deal to get elected. I think everybody needs, in a bipartisan fashion, to take a moment before getting head strong in the legislative session and say congratulations."

Lawmakers will be required to pay for invitations and the cost of additional security. A band is donating its time, and flowers used to decorate the chambers will be reused to decorate the Rotunda, where lawmakers will participate in the grand march down the main Capitol staircase, according to Senate administrator Michael Keathley.

Lawmakers will be allowed to serve food and other refreshments from their offices, but again at their own expense, Keathley said. The money must either come from lawmakers' own funds or from campaign funds, not their individual office allotments, Keathley said.

Bare-bones ball

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said that with more than 90 new state lawmakers coming to Jefferson City, the tradition of welcoming them, their families and supporters to the Capitol is a worthwhile endeavor.

"I don't think it's out of line," Kinder said. "We're doing it bare bones."

Kinder cited the $15,000 spent for Holden's inaugural on custom-made chocolate bars imprinted with his inaugural slogan.

"We're going to hand out bite-sized Snickers," Kinder quipped.

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