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Holden proposes increases for education, emphasis on life sciences

January 21, 2004
-By: Christie Smythe
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Two issues deemed integral to the Columbia area by local legislators -- restoring education funding and promoting life sciences -- topped the list of priorities in Gov. Bob Holden's state of the state address Wednesday.

But amidst an atmosphere of partisian accusations and attacks, neither goal looks promising, local legislators said.

Education would get a $176.7 million boost under the governor's recommendations -- though it's based on tax increases that failed to pass the legislature last year. That would restore the state's education appropriation to about $31 million higher than it was for 2003.

Higher education would get an increase of $34.2 million, $22.4 million of which would go to the University of Missouri. Previous cuts to financial aid wouldn't be restored until after a revenue gap left by one-time federal -bailout money can be plugged, said State Budget Director Linda Luebbering.

-Increases would come as a relief to the University of Missouri system, which has taken $158 million in cuts to its operating budget in the past three years.

"We're very hopeful that our appropriation will remain flat from this year, if not increase," said UM system spokesman Joe Moore.

Yet, after the governor accused Republicans in his address of defending "tax breaks for corporations at the expense of our children's education," Repubicans returned the attack -- calling for the governor to instead release his past withholdings.

House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton shouted out during Holden's speech: "Release the money, Governor!"

Later in a news conference, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis, surrounded by Republicans from the General Assembly, put the blame for the education cuts squarely on Holden.

"They balanced the budget last year, without tax increases," Hanaway said about House members." They had to cut $400 million in other services, but they did it without cutting education."

If the governor's proposed tax increases once again fail to pass the legislature, withholdings can be expected, Luebbering said. But the question of where has yet to be answered by Holden.

That question elicited a more definite response from Senate Minority Leader Ken Jacob.

"I think they're inevitable," he said about future education withholdings. "It's not like it might not happen. I don't see a way to avoid it."

No ire was raised from Republicans when Holden addressed the issue of promoting life sciences development in his speech, calling Missouri "the heart of the Bio-belt."

But a recent $190 million bond proposal which would pay for life sciences research facilities for the University of Missouri system has already proven divisive along party lines. Although Republican leadership have pushed the proposal, Jacob and Holden have expressed skepticism about funding sources for the bonds.

"I think as a practical political matter, that issue would be very difficult to pass," Jacob said.

Democrats in general said they were appalled by Jetton's remark on the House floor, including Columbia representatives Vicky Riback Wilson and Jeff Harris.

Harris said that without a stronger "spirit of cooperation" and more professionalism in the legislature, he didn't think much could be accomplished for either issue.

"Until we have cooperation and professionalism, this place is going to be nothing more than a circus," he said.