JEFFERSON CITY — With selected education and business leaders gathered around him, Gov. Bob Holden has been campaigning across the state to raise money for education.
The governor has been holding discussions on education and the economy, inviting certain officials to share their views about the link between the classroom and corporate boardroom.
What the discussions usually conclude — often before they start — is that public education desperately needs more money from the state.
But the Democratic governor also is seeking to drive home a second conclusion — that the Republican-controlled legislature is responsible for the lack of school funding.
Holden’s prepared notes for his opening round-table remarks accuse legislative leaders of trying to shift the blame to him for bad budget decisions that have hurt schools and caused teachers to lose their jobs.
The governor used a similar tactic earlier this year, when he convened a series of meetings with school superintendents.
Holden’s intent for his meetings is to build a groundswell of support for his revenue proposals, resulting in an epiphany among Republican lawmakers that they need to raise taxes for education.
So far, though, the meetings seem only to be angering and annoying Republicans.
“This is just the same song, second verse of what’s been happening since May, where the school superintendents have just decided to join lock-stock with the governor on his tax proposals. They’re presenting nothing new,” said Rep. Bob Johnson, a longtime Republican lawmaker from Lee’s Summit.
After a recent round-table discussion in Lee’s Summit, Holden headed to a campaign fund-raiser in nearby Kansas City.
Besides Lee’s Summit, Holden also led education-economy discussions during November in Springfield, St. Charles and St. Joseph. Another session is in the works for Hannibal.
The forums come a few months after Holden withheld about $200 million of the $4.55 billion that lawmakers appropriated to elementary and secondary education for the school year.
Those cuts came on top of ones suffered the previous school year, also because of state budget troubles.
Holden contends the legislature’s budget lacks enough revenue to meet its planned spending. House Republicans claim that’s not true. But even if it once was true, they say, the economy has improved enough recently to justify the release of at least some of that money. Holden says that’s not the case.
Republican House leaders pin that blame for the school funding cuts on the governor, not themselves.
And both Holden and GOP House leaders accuse the other of twisting the facts to mislead the public.
Johnson claims the forums are intended to show voters — primarily those deciding between Holden and State Auditor Claire McCaskill in the 2004 Democratic governor’s primary — that Holden is a tough politician.
The governor’s re-election campaign has little to no involvement in the forums, said Caleb Weaver, Holden’s campaign spokesman.
“It’s entirely something he’s doing as governor to talk to business leaders and education leaders around the state. It’s really not a campaign activity,” said Weaver, who before joining the campaign was Holden’s liaison and lobbyist on education issues.