JEFFERSON CITY - There was little opposition to the goals outlined in Gov. Mel Carnahan's State of the State Address on Wednesday among Democrats and Republicans alike. But while agreeing with the speech itself, critics questioned the governor's motives and sincerity.
Republican leaders attacked Carnahan's budget plan after his speech, charging him with stealing many of their own ideas for the purpose of winning popular support in an election year.
"The governor is starting to sound more and more like a Republican," said House Republican Leader Mark Richardson of Poplar Bluff. "Many of the things on his agenda are Republican things. It sounded very much like a speech I would give myself. We'll have to wait and see if it's a lot of rhetoric."
Senate Minority Leader Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County, said several of Carnahan's proposals are lifted from actual bills already proposed by Republican senators.
"Of the four main programs he proposed two are from Republican bills. Then he talked about kids and senior citizens," Flotron said. "Everything else was about spending more money. The guy is an incredible taxaholic."
Republicans focused much of their criticism on Carnahan's motivation for his plan to cut the state sales tax by a 1/4 cent. Richardson said the governor is being forced to take such measures because of more than $330 million in taxes raised under the Outstanding Schools Act have pushed the state over the constitutional revenue limit.
"It's nothing more than going into WalMart, taking a bunch of stuff and then asking for a finder's fee when you give a little of it back," Richardson said.
But Carnahan and other Democrats have placed the blame for the state's excess of money on a state economy performing far above original expectations.
"Senate Bill 380 was within the limits when it was passed," Carnahan said in a press conference after his address. "This is fueled by an economy going above projections."
The governor's address contained other Republican themes, such as a proposed amendment to require that all major tax increases be submitted to a state vote - a proposal passed by the legislature last year and will appear on this spring's ballot for voter approval. He also proposed an average pay raise of 5.8 percent for state employees in light of the healthy economy.
One of Carnahan's major messages was preparation in the face of the budget uncertainty in Washington. This preparation included the formation of a commission to study the situation and a build up of the "rainy day fund."
"My recommendations include increasing this fund to 115 million dollars, or about two and one-half percent of general revenue collections," he said.
In his address, the governor also stressed education and crime fighting, both of which receive increased funding under his proposal. His favorite talking point is an issue involving both areas - safe schools.
"Too many of our students and teachers must step into a combat zone of guns, gangs and drugs whenever they enter the classroom," Carnahan said. "We're not going to tolerate violent and disruptive students - period."
To deal with these students, the governor is pushing an initiative which would establish alternative schools for disruptive students and provide for a better system of tracking them.
Both House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, and Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, expressed general support for the governor's goals at a joint press conference, echoing Carnahan's optimism about the rosy state of Missouri's economy.
"The message is that there is good news to talk about in Missouri," said Gaw, who went on to defend the governor's proposed tax cut. "There are going to continue to be refunds. It makes more sense to me to talk about cutting taxes, rather than collect the money and then give it back."
Mathewson, however, has suggested the sales tax cut should be made temporary in case the state's economy takes a downturn in the future.
Mathewson did endorse the governor's plan expand the state's emergency fund - called the rainy day fund - to provide a reserve to meet possible federal funding cuts Congress might approve.
"The governor wants to have $115 million in the rainy day fund. Is that enough? I don't know," Mathewson said. "But it beats the heck out of what we had there yesterday."
But Flotron said the fund is just one more instance of the governor's theft of Republican ideals.
"The only money in the rainy day fund is money I got there," Flotron said. "The governor is just trying to sound like a Republican."