State auditor blasts St. Louis Post-Dispatch after critical editorial

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 | 8:53 a.m. CDT; updated 8:18 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich called a Capitol press conference Tuesday to lambast the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which published an editorial accusing him of putting his own office's budget ahead of Joplin's needs.

Schweich, a Republican, filed a lawsuit Friday that stated Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon violated the state constitution by cutting money budgeted for education and other government services in order to help pay for efforts related to the May 22 Joplin tornado and flooding in other parts of the state.

Among other things, the lawsuit states Nixon's cuts were arbitrary and capricious because they included a $300,000 reduction to Schweich's office and cuts to the Republican-led Legislature but not to Nixon's office nor those of other Democratic statewide officials.

"Mr. Schweich wants the court and the public to believe that his budget is more important than helping a city rebuild from one of the worst natural disasters in our state's history," the paper wrote in its editorial.

During his Tuesday news conference, Schweichspoke about the Post-Dispatch for 20 minutes, paused to take questions, then continued to hammer home his point.

"I care about Joplin," Schweich repeatedly insisted while noting he has relatives there, has donated money to relief efforts, given local officials accounting advice and met with people in Joplin while expressing his sympathy. "For them to write an article saying I don't care about them is corrupt, dishonest and a total disservice of the people of Missouri who I represent."

Schweich demanded a retraction of the editorial and an apology.

Editorial page editor Gilbert Bailon instead issued a statement defending the editorial's "solid, fact-based reporting" and further criticized Schweich.

"It is very unfortunate that the auditor refused to grant media interviews on the subject before the editorial ran, and then held a news conference to use baseless, inflamed rhetoric that distracts from the matter at hand without offering any new insights," Bailon said in the emailed statement.

Schweich said the point of his lawsuit isn't that his office, or any other government agency, deserves money more than Joplin. Rather, Schweich said, the lawsuit is intended to clarify the procedures governors must follow when making cuts to budgeted programs — no matter the worthiness of the cause. Schweich said he referenced the cuts to his own office to help ensure he would have legal standing to sue.

Although Missouri's revenues have improved in recent months, Nixon has said a portion of the $172 million in cuts he announced in June were necessary to help cover the $150 million he has pledged in disaster aid for Joplin and other communities affected by this year's tornadoes and floods.

Nearly all of Missouri's elected officials have sought to demonstrate their commitment to helping Joplin following the tornado.

Nixon, for example, repeatedly has traveled to Joplin for both big and small announcements. During a visit last Friday, Nixon announced a playground would be built for families living in temporary housing supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The state House and Senate each have convened special committees to examine the state's disaster response efforts.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, has highlighted his role as the state's official senior advocate and his concerns about whether the elderly have been able to find housing, receive meals and replace lost items such as dentures. Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, has touted his consumer fraud efforts after the tornado, and Treasurer Clint Zweifel, also a Democrat, has highlighted the state's role in arranging low-interest loans for some Joplin businesses.

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