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Governor, speaker spar over schools

Partisan bickering surrounds revenue totals and spending.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:58 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

So it wasn’t a classic showdown at high noon, with dust and tumbleweeds a-blowin’.

[photo]
Hanaway

But as afternoon clouds dumped rain on Columbia, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, and Gov. Bob Holden squared off across Missouri and hailed on each other.

By early evening, charges of arrogance, deception and political posturing flew as others joined the fray, with Republicans and Democrats accusing one another of misleading the public about the state’s budget situation.

Hanaway pushing education bill

The day began with a 9 a.m. press conference in Cape Girardeau, where Hanaway introduced a petition calling for Holden to begin releasing the $197 million withheld from Missouri public schools in July. Republicans cite a 5.1 percent net increase in revenue over the past four months as reason for releasing the funds.

Weather prevented Hanaway from making a second scheduled stop in Joplin, but the stumping was continued there just after noon by House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles.

Holden Responds to accusations

[photo]
Holden

Holden responded with a 1 p.m. press conference in the governor’s office, where he denied the Republican charges, saying net revenue numbers are misleading. Holden instead cited gross revenue numbers, which showed only a 1.8 percent increase.

“It is ludicrous,” Holden said. “The contention that I would purposely withhold available money to education is wrong and defies logic.”

The back and forth

Hanaway countered again, shortly after 3 p.m., at a press conference in Hickman High School’s new commons area, where she rolled out the petition in front of a few dozen residents and reporters, as well as students taking shelter from the downpour outside.

“When we have the money coming in, at rates greater than expected, it’s time to release those withholdings,” Hanaway said. “At the very minimum, Governor, release a third of those withholdings.”

Schools at heart of issue

The withholdings were challenged by 14 of the state’s school districts, but were upheld by a Cole County circuit judge last week. The schools have appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

With both sides claiming education as the top priority, the debate has centered on the numbers — and whose to use.

Republicans are relying on net revenue numbers from the Department of Revenue, which show a 5.1 percent increase for the past four months, compared to the past fiscal year. They argue the net figures are the most appropriate, since they show the increase after refunds have been accounted for.

The governor’s office is using gross collections numbers, which show an increase of only 1.8 percent during the past year — below the 5.4 percent gross growth assumed by the 2004 fiscal budget.

Comparing gross pre-refund numbers is more appropriate, Holden said, because tax refunds for July, August and September were inordinately high last year. The governor’s office said those disproportionate refunds skew the comparison with the 2003 net revenue, when refunds returned to normal.

Holden also claimed Republicans have not accounted for state money that will be lost to federal tax cuts and Medicaid costs expected later this fiscal year.

Time yet to tell

But while Holden said the withholdings will be re-evaluated in January, Hanaway and other Republicans encourage the public to call for a release sooner. That way, they argue, educators could have the money before making budget decisions early next year.

The petition can be found on the Missouri House of Representatives Web site. Democrats have criticized its inclusion on the bipartisan site as inappropriate.

Missourian staff Drew Bratcher

and Matthew Lunders contributed

to this report.


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