Governor's travel comes under fire as Missouri's House passes the 2012 budget
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Governor's travel comes under fire as Missouri's House passes the 2012 budget

Date: March 29, 2011
By: Jordan Shapiro
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 12 and the travel-cut rollcall and the auditor budget-cut rollcall

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House voted to strip Gov. Jay Nixon of additional travel funds, as they gave first-round approval to the 2012 budget.

Shortly after he took office, Nixon began charging his travel to other state agencies instead of his own office budget.

In response, leaders from both sides of the aisle supported a House Budget Committee plan to block the governor from using other agency budgets to finance his travel.  As part of the plan, the committee approved an increase in the governor's budget to cover travel costs.

But the House voted to cut out that extra travel money, stripping $500,000 from the governor's budget that had been recommended by the House Budget Committee.

The House voted to give that extra money for a school dropout prevention program.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, offered the amendment and said the House needed to address the problem of students dropping out of school.

"When those children that have dropped out go out in those streets, they are committing crimes in the worst way, and we are the ones that have to pay for it when they go into the penal system," Nasheed said.

Nasheed's amendment would take the money from the governor's travel budget and place it into a dropout prevention program, which Nixon eliminated from this year's budget. Nasheed said there is a "silent epidemic" and no one is paying attention.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, opposed the amendment and said the governor needs to be able to travel.

House Budget Committee Chair Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who had initially put the additional travel money into Nixon's budget, supported Nasheed.

"We have got a pretty simple choice here. Do we let the governor continue flying around excessively on the state plane or do we help kids in inner-city St. Louis, who need a leg up?" Silvey said.

The governor's office said Nixon was traveling in the St. Louis area talking about unrelated issues when the House vote was taken. His office said the governor would give the budget a "fair review" when it clears the legislature.

Kelly also criticized his colleagues for supporting the amendment.

"This is a manipulation of the governor's office and a manipulation of these kids...we should not drag the budget process into the mud and not drag these children with us," Kelly said.

Nasheed's amendment passed overwhelmingly with a 118-37 vote.

The House also considered an amendment to remove funds from Republican Auditor Tom Schweich's office. The auditor has added additional staff positions this year and has requested through another appropriations bill additional funding for his office. Republicans said this was not the time to criticize the auditor's budget because his office received the same core decrease as every other statewide elected official. Democrats, however, said it was inappropriate for the auditor to ask for more money given the state's budget situation.

The motion was defeated by a vote of 99-56 on a near party-line vote.

Republican House members also looked at employees of statewide elected officials. Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, offered an amendment preventing the salary of any statewide employee from exceeding $86,500. Guernsey said the governor's office has six employees currently making over $100,000.

"Across the board, it is a good policy for us to bring those salary levels down," Guernsey said.

Guernsey's amendment passed by a 119-35 vote.

Kelly also presented an amendment, which would add $12 million to a program providing grants for nursing students and other medical technicians who agree to work in areas of medical need, a program called Preparing to Care.

Except for the medical student grant increase and restrictions on the governor's travel budget, the House-passed plan largely mirrors the governor's original budget recommendations. 

However, one senior House Democrat -- Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield -- warned that reductions in the budget would be felt by all Missourians.

"This budget falls well short of providing services that are needed by Missourians. The budget falls short not because of inappropriate decisions made in this year's budget process, but because of inadequate revenue," Lampe said.

Missouri's budget approved by the House includes a 7 percent reduction in higher education spending and a $200 million shortfall in the Foundation Formula, which funds local school districts.

One of the largest increases would be in the welfare program Medicaid that provides health care coverage for the lower income. Republican budget leaders have acknowledged that federal requirements force the state into expanding the Medicaid budget.

The 13 operating budget bills face one more House vote before going to the Senate.