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Holden's Office Targeted for Cuts

February 25, 2002
By: Brian Connolly
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Members of Gov. Holden's own party are making sure he's included in the belt-tightening as they formulate the state budget.

The House Appropriations Committee for General Administration voted last week to cut the governor's office budget by 40 percent and eliminate 10 full-time staff positions. The committee, whose recommendations now move to the House Budget Committee, also voted to cut a $150,150 dues payment to the National Governors Association.

"I thought that was the right thing to do, what was fair," said Committee Chair Rep. Dennis Bonner, D-Independence.

The committee recommended similar cuts in the Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, and Lieutenant Governor's budgets as well as the office budgets of House members.

"If he thinks he's being unfairly singled out, then he's wrong," Bonner said.

The cuts would severely affect the way the governor interacts with constituents, said Jerry Nachtigal, a Holden spokesman. He said the governor's office is a "lean operation" with about 30 or 40 staffers in Jefferson City, a "handful" of staff in Washington, D.C., and none in Kansas City and St. Louis.

"This clearly is led by a representative who doesn't really understand how a governor's office works," Nachtigal said.

Bonner said that was an interesting statement.

"I think with all the mistakes that Gov. Holden has made over the last 14 months a lot of us don't understand how the governor's office operates," he said.

The governor expects his budget to be trimmed, Nachtigal said, but doesn't think the reductions passed by the committee will make their way through to the final budget. Bonner said he would fight hard to make the cuts stick.

Holden was in Washington, D.C. Monday for the National Governors Association winter meeting. Eliminating payment of NGA dues would make Missouri the only state not belonging to the organization, Nachtigal said.

Bonner's response: "So what?". He said that during appropriations hearings the governor's staff didn't convince the committee that NGA membership should be spared. The committee also recommended cutting $284,403 in dues to organizations to which the General Assembly belongs.

The committee voted 15-1 in favor of the budget reduction for Holden and other elected officials. The sole vote against came from Rep. Mark Hampton, D-Summersville.

"I just thought the cuts were excessive," Hampton said.

Hampton originally voted with the rest of the committee then changed his vote later. He said at the time of the first vote he didn't realize how deep the cuts were.

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said aside from mandated programs and the school foundation formula, he doesn't think any area of the budget is immune from cuts.

"Everything is fair game," said Graham, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee on Education.