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Blunt rescinds collective bargaining for state works, makes cuts

January 11, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

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 former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, Blunt disallowed collective bargaining on behalf of state employees and ended the practice of charging all state employees a negotiating fee, even if they do not 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 Columbia Senator Chuck Graham.

"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 than you ought to pay the dues to that union."

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 non-emergency vehicles, cell phones or lease any new office space until further notice.

On their own, the cuts won't amount to enough to fix any of Missouri's major concerns -- like its rough roads or school funding shortage -- but Blunt said they're only the first steps.

"Does this solve all our problems? Probably doesn't solve all our problems," Blunt 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 Columbia Rep. Jeff Harris, the Democratic floor leader in the Missouri House. "He didn't like this order? Okay. Now what's his plan so we respect the quality of work that state employees do?"

Blunt said that further cuts will probably not be available until he unveils his budget, an event he said may come before the annual State of the State address on January 26.

In the meantime, state offices will continue to be reorganized as Blunt finishes up appointing directors for Missouri's state agencies. And with these new leaders may come firings and job cuts, Blunt said.

"We're about changing state government," Blunt said. "And if you want to change state government that means you've got to put people in state agencies who are going to affect change."