Holden speech shows partisan funding fight

The bitter partisan squabble that plagued the Missouri General Assembly last year was revived Wednesday with an outburst from one of Missouri's highest-ranking Republicans.

Gov. Bob Holden's condemnation of the Republican-controlled General Assembly's cuts to education was interrupted by Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill.

During the address, Jetton shouted at the governor, demanded that Holden release the remainder of almost $240 million in withholdings from education funding.

While acknowledging criticisms of Jetton's actions, House Budget Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said the outburst was justified.

"Rep. Jetton's outburst was unfortunate, but I think not necessarily uncalled for given the governor's continued desire to misrepresent the facts," Bearden said.

Democrats questioned the professionalism of Jetton and the General Assembly as a whole.

"I was appalled by Speaker Pro Tem Jetton's heckling of the governor," Minority Whip Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said.

Harris said Jetton's challenge to the governor would hurt future budget debates.

"Until (Wednesday's) speech, I was cautiously optimistic that we could work together," Harris said. "But when you see the Speaker Pro Tem heckling the Governor, it causes a person to doubt the chances that we'll have true bipartisanship and cooperation."

The core of the disagreement was assigning blame for cuts to education in last year's budget discussions.

"Our people were sold short last year with budget cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars, and these cuts endangered the future of countless children," Holden said in the speech.

"First we encourage them to dream, then you denied the means," he said. "That's not bravado. That's just cruel."

In the speech, Holden blamed Republicans for the budget cuts and challenged the General Assembly to restore all education funds.

"Some think there is courage in cutting education funding," Holden said. "But where is the courage in merely shifting the burden onto local governments? Where is the courage in forcing your local constituents to raise property taxes? And where is the courage in siding with gambling and tobacco interests over the welfare of our children in public schools?"

Holden proposed tax programs similar to those rejected by the General Assembly last year. Both Hanaway and Senate Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, denounced the proposals again in remarks to their respective bodies prior to Holden's address.

"We should not have an unbalanced budget because the General Assembly has a moral responsibility to give the governor a budget that is fiscally responsible and balanced," Harris said. "I'm still waiting to hear from Speaker Hanaway and the Budget Chair as to their proposals, but unfortunately, the indications show that they do intend to cut from education."

Estimates placed the budget deficit at least at $740 million. Holden has released estimates that agree with the initial figures, but House Republicans, who believed the estimates overstated the debt in the fall, anticipate Holden's plans are unnecessary.

Bearden said Holden's ideas for increasing revenue rather than extending further cuts would not factor significantly in the budget.

"There won't be any tax increases that come about from this," Bearden said. "I think it was a campaign speech, not a State of the State address. He totally misrepresented and essentially lied in saying that the legislature cut from education while the fact is that the legislature increased education funding."

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