Holden's State of State talk focuses on challenges

Monday, January 21, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY - A year ago at his inauguration, Gov. Bob Holden set the theme of his administration as "One Bright Future, One Missouri." Weeks later, he delivered a State of the State address titled "Missouri: A New Century of Opportunities."

In his second State of the State speech on Wednesday, Holden, a Democrat, will no doubt endeavor to stress the positive. However, with additional state budget cuts a certainty at a time when the economic prosperity of the state is not, Holden is expected to be blunt about the challenges and hardships facing Missouri.

"I think the tone will be one of responsibility," Holden said of his address before a joint session of the General Assembly.

During the speech, he will also unveil his proposed fiscal year 2003 budget. Lawmakers passed a $19 billion budget for the current fiscal year, but the governor cut roughly $600 million through vetoes and withholdings.

Holden's speech will focus on four subjects: education, budget constraint, homeland security and economic development.

"We'll address those four issues very succinctly in the State of the State address," Holden said.

Legislative leaders of both political parties have joined the governor in making elementary and secondary education funding the top priority of the 2002 legislative session. Budget officials say an additional $220 million is needed to fully fund the formula through which state aid is distributed to local school districts.

However, with state revenue expected to grow by only $150 million, not all lawmakers support putting all of the new money into the formula plus cutting $70 million from other departments to ensure full funding.

Money for the formula isn't all Holden needs to pay for his priorities.

Brian Long, the governor's budget director, said last week that Holden wants $40 million to open the state's new prison at Bonne Terre. The facility has been sitting idle since construction was completed last year because the state lacked the money in the current budget to open it.

All told, Long said approximately $700 million is needed to pay for mandatory programs, such as Medicaid. That will require lawmakers to eliminate or scale back discretionary programs or raise taxes. While some have proposed hiking taxes to preserve current spending levels, Holden hasn't embraced the notion.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said lawmakers are anxious to learn Holden's plan for addressing the budget, which is required by the state Constitution to be balanced, and how he plans to pay for priorities.

"We need as much detail as possible," Kinder said. "All eyes will be on that."

Holden also intends to ask for up to $3 million in new spending for homeland security. The governor has already unveiled that component of his legislative agenda, which includes calling for tougher laws to punish those who gouge prices to profit in times of emergency or make false terrorist threats, and issuing bonds for a new state health laboratory.

Holden said the lab, which was already planned, is needed even more now to respond to acts of bioterrorism.

The portion of the speech related to economic development will include a request for taxpayer funding beginning in 2005 for a new St. Louis Cardinals ballpark and other stadium and convention center projects.

However, Jerry Nachtigal, Holden's spokesman, said the focus of that topic will be on preserving existing businesses and attracting new ones to the state, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Nachtigal said

Missouri has lost 35,000 manufacturing jobs in the last year.

"The governor will address the needs of those folks and how we can cut through the red tape in getting them job training and back into the workforce," Nachtigal said.

During his first year in office, Holden was largely successful in passing his legislative agenda through the General Assembly, which sided with the governor on tougher laws to combat drunken driving and creating a prescription drug program for senior citizens. One key area of failure was Holden's call to address transportation needs.

The governor made transportation a priority in his first address and later offered a $620 million tax proposal to fund improvements. A version of Holden's plan passed the Democrat-controlled House but never got a vote in the majority Republican Senate.

This year, transportation doesn't look to occupy a prominent position in Holden's agenda. Earlier this month, Holden said Missouri's economic recession is overshadowing transportation needs. While a number of transportation tax bills have been filed, Holden hasn't taken a stance.

Kinder said lawmakers need the governor's leadership on the issue.

"We need to know what his position is on transportation," Kinder said.

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