Missouri Governor Jay Nixon this week announced that he was vetoing or freezing over $1.1 billion in state spending, a move that irked Bill Lant, 159th district state rep, Pineville, who said the governor’s moves betray any notion that he is a friend to the state’s children.
Lant agreed with the governor cutting some expenses because the state is not doing as well financially as had been predicted. However, Lant said what the governor cut and the reasons that he gave for doing so are reminiscent of the way the federal government is run.
“There’s no reason for some of the cuts,” Lant said. “Both sides of the aisle worked diligently with the governor’s office to appropriate the money that we did for the foundation formula. We negotiated long and hard to get what we got for higher education and community colleges.”
He said those cuts include $100 million for K-12 education, $43 million to higher education, and community colleges take a $6 million hit.
Lant said the governor did set a condition for releasing those funds.
“His stated reasons are he’s holding the money ransom to see whether or not the legislature overturns his vetoes,” the state rep said. “But that is not the way to run a government.”
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Nixon said the education money would be the first to be released if legislators in September sustain his previously announced vetoes of bills granting special tax breaks to a variety of industries and organizations.
“In addition to that, we have our Department of Education issuing orders that countermand what we were trying to do with the schools in St. Louis. We’re talking about schools that have been unaccredited for 20 years, and DESE now thinks it’s going to step in and issue orders that are going to correct the problem? They’ve had 20 years to correct it.”
Lant said the legislature has spent several years in hard battles to come up with a good education bill, and found one that would at least get part of the way there.
“Darned if the governor doesn’t veto that, and turns to one of his department heads and says, ‘Well, just go over the people of Missouri and issue directives,’” Lant said. “That’s not right! It’s not a fair way to do things.
“And when I say that the governor has declared a war on children, I mean that 100 percent. He steals money from the Department of Social Services, Children’s Division, to pay his dues to the governor’s association, and then he vetoes or withholds the money that we needed so desperately for education. Nobody is going to convince me that this governor has any care for the children of this state.”
Lant said the governor’s actions are not an attempt to put pressure on representatives and senators to sustain his vetoes this fall.
“In most law enforcement terms, that’s not called pressure, that’s called blackmail,” he said. “I’ll hold your money until you do what I want you to do.”
Lant said he would like to be one of the adults in the room and that he can’t imagine that such a large majority that voted for those education and funding bills were all wrong.
“Not both sides of the aisle, not overwhelming numbers coming together to compromise on bills and try to help the children of the state,” he said.
In addition, Lant said money the legislature had approved to put state employees’ salaries back onto their step-program was squelched.
“No, we’re not talking about giving them a raise,” he noted. “There are state employees — children service people, even highway patrol people — who haven’t have an increase in pay in five years. We cannot continue to do that and keep people in place to do the most important jobs in our state.”
Lant said the governor cut funding from Children’s Services, Social Services, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) office in Neosho is closed.
“The people who worked there, some of them had over 20 years of service and found themselves with a pink slip and no job,” he said. “What that means is that water quality and air quality – we have to count on getting someone out of St. Louis or Jefferson City to investigate a problem. Those are the kind of cuts that you don’t make, but obviously he feels that the places he cut are the places he has the most opposition from the legislature.”
Lant said those DNR jobs in Neosho are gone, even if the funding would be restored.
“Those offices have been in place for years and years,” he said. “When you think of all the poultry industry that there is in this area, all the lakes and streams and rivers, that’s why that office was there – to provide protection for us.”
Since securing his last election, Lant said these actions have become somewhat of an annual ritual with the governor.
“I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, a leader – whether he’s a Democrat governor or a Republican governor – will find ways to work with his legislature and get things done. Governors in other states do exactly that,” he said.
Lant said he has talked to counterparts in other states that have Democrat governors. “They say they see the man in the hallways and in the offices and in the committee rooms. He’s never attended one of my committee hearings,” Lant said. “I’m just calling it as I see it, and the way I see it, instead of leadership we’ve got a bully.”
While withholding money now, Lant said Nixon was adamant that legislators put much more funding into the budget for next fiscal year than what lawmakers were comfortable with.
He said the governor’s prognosis for next year was to propose a 5.8 percent increase.
“Part of that so-called behind the scenes bill passing – we discovered that a lot of that 5.8 percent came from going into current law and redefining it,” Lant said. “In other words, a business person who thought they were collecting the right amount of sales tax would suddenly find that the state of Missouri said they owed a couple hundred thousand [dollars] in back taxes – and you have to prove that you don’t owe it. It’s a smoke and mirrors deal that we shouldn’t have to be dealing with.”