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Holden's State of the State ignites partisan bickering

January 21, 2004
By: Alex Yalen
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Partisan rancor marked Gov. Bob Holden's State of the State Address Wednesday, as his education, job, and revenue plans all fell under heavy assualt from Republican leadership.

The program he announced was essentially the same as the program he put forth last year, with a continued emphasis on a tax increase to help fund Missouri's public schools.

"The essence of our problem is unchanged," he said to the General Assembly. "Yes, we have reached an agreement on projected revenues for next year. But they won't be near enough to repair the damage you have done to Missouri schools."

Republicans deny the necessity of a tax hike, suggesting that Holden should release all the money he witheld from education instead.

"I can't imagine anything more cruel than holding back $200 million," said House Speaker Catharine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, referring to Holden's earlier withholding of money from education.

In his address, Holden also proposed two job-creation acts. First, he promoted his 2004 Jobs First plan, which would return tax money to local communities to help them improve their "local infrastructure," he said.

That includes broadband internet access, wastewater systems and industrial parks.

He also proposed renewed focus on creating in Missouri a "bio-belt," which he said would draw biotechnology corporations into the state and create jobs.

At the core of his proposal -- which included support for life science centers throughout the state as well as the increasing use of ethanol, corn-based fuels -- Holden returned to one of his key themes: education.

"Good schools are critical to business success," he said. "Our people should take a back seat to no one."

The bitter and contentious tone for the day was set early, after the governor's speech was interrupted by House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill. Jetton called out mid-speech for the governor to release the nearly $200 million that he had witheld from public education last year.

"Today, he basically looked at our side of the House and degraded us," Jetton said afterward. "I just couldn't take it much longer."

The governor repeatedly accused the legislature of failing to do its duty for Missouri.

"I will not rest until you have restored funding you cut last year to schools in this state," Holden said in his speech. "If you thought this was over, think again."

Other leading Republicans agreed with Jetton's assessment of Holden's address, feeling that the speech was somewhat of a cheap shot.

"When the governor uses the State of the State address to mislead the public," Hanaway said, "then I think it is perfectly appropriate for a cry to come out."