JEFFERSON CITY — At his first press conference as Missouri’s governor, Matt Blunt shot down measures supporting collective bargaining by state workers and signed several cost-cutting measures.
And the Republican chief executive hinted the first cuts won’t be the last, or the deepest.
“We need a state government that looks within itself to be more efficient and more responsible rather than one that looks to taxpayers to pay more,” Blunt said.
By revoking an order made by his predecessor, former Gov. Bob Holden, Blunt disallowed collective bargaining on behalf of state employees and ended the practice of charging all new state workers a negotiating fee, even if they do not wish to join the union.
“The decision to join or not join a service union or any other organization should be left up to the individual,” Blunt said. “No organization has the right to compel anybody to join it.”
Blunt’s move was opposed by Democratic lawmakers, including state Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia.
“I think that it’s a matter of fairness and that public workers should have the same rights as those in the private sector,” Graham said. “They’re benefiting from the negotiations that have been made by the union, so if you’re benefiting, then you ought to pay the dues to that union.”
Former state Sen. Ken Jacob of Columbia is now the director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents many Missouri workers. He said his group is prepared to file a lawsuit against the state if Blunt attempts to back out of any of the contracts negotiated under the old rules.
“We believe that the state has to honor the contracts,” Jacob said. “If they fail to honor them, we’ll let the courts decide who’s right.”
Blunt also signed an executive order closing Missouri’s lobbying office in Washington, D.C., and froze a number of state purchases. State agencies will not be allowed to purchase nonemergency vehicles, cellular phones or lease any new office space until further notice.
On their own, the cuts are not expected to do enough to fix any of Missouri’s major concerns — such as its rough roads or school funding shortage — but Blunt said they’re only the beginning.
“Does this solve all our problems? (It) probably doesn’t solve all our problems,” he said. “It’s going to take lots of incremental and small changes to truly make our state government more efficient.”
None of Tuesday’s moves were unexpected. Blunt filed a lawsuit opposing Holden’s collective bargaining measures while he was secretary of state. He had also declared his intent to close the Washington office before his inauguration.
“It’s not a surprise. It was expected,” said state Rep. Jeff Harris, the Democratic floor leader from Columbia. “He didn’t like this order? OK. Now what’s his plan so we respect the quality of work that state employees do?”
Blunt said information about further cuts probably would not be available until he unveils his budget, an event he said might come before the annual State of the State address on Jan. 26.
In the meantime, state offices will continue to be reorganized as Blunt finishes appointing directors for Missouri’s state agencies. With these new leaders might come firings and job cuts, Blunt said.
“We’re about changing state government,” Blunt said.