Mid-Mo. lawmakers reflect on Nixon address

Gov. Jay Nixon’s third State of the State address generated mixed reactions from Mid-Missouri’s 10 lawmakers.

Jefferson City’s three freshmen Republicans — Sen. Mike Kehoe and Reps. Jay Barnes and Mike Bernskoetter — and second term Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, all applauded Nixon’s support for a second Callaway County nuclear reactor.

Nixon said Wednesday night: “Missouri has some of the lowest electric rates in the nation. That’s attractive to businesses and families.

“But as our energy needs grow, we need to be looking now for new sources of clean, abundant and affordable power. (And) building a second nuclear plant will create thousands of good-paying jobs for all our construction trades.”

Kehoe, who sponsors the Senate’s version of the bill letting Ameren Missouri recover the costs of successfully applying for a site permit, said Thursday afternoon: “Jobs are a non-partisan issue, and putting people back to work — no matter what side of the aisle you’re on — I think it’s something that everybody wants to see happen.”

Riddle’s district includes the Callaway plant.

“I think energy is a big deal in this state,” she said. “I don’t believe that you can separate economic development from affordable, abundant energy.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and committee member Dan Brown, R-Rolla, both focused on Nixon’s budget plan.

“Obviously, there’s much more to the governor’s budget than he actually addressed” Wednesday night, Schaefer said. “For example, a 7 percent cut to higher education wasn’t mentioned in the speech, but it’s certainly a major part of his budget for 2012.”

Schaefer acknowledged the governor has a hard job to do in “a tough budget time.”

And keeping education funding level requires quite a bit of shuffling, he said, “but that does not translate that funding for each school district being the same in 2012 as it was in 2011.”

Brown is concerned about “some of the new dollars being offered up (while) looking at the deficits that we’re looking at. ... We don’t know exactly how they plan on paying for some of these programs that have been proposed yet.”

Brown generally supports Nixon’s education proposals, but would like to see even more money available to help school districts with their transportation costs.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is a former House budget chairman.

“Nixon has been governor for the three worst years since the Great Depression,” he noted, “and the most important thing a governor does is manage the finances of the state ... and he’s done that very, very well.”

Kelly worried that part of Nixon’s budget is based on lawmakers modifying some laws, “because bills can go ‘south’ around here, and there you are with a budget based on money you don’t have.”

He said it’s most likely the Legislature won’t resolve the tax credits issues, because the House and Senate vary so widely in their supports for or against the credits.

Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, wished Nixon’s speech had been more specific about where the state was going to find “$300 million to $500 million” to cut.

Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, said he found “many points in the speech that he made that I can agree with.”

However, Schad added, Nixon took credit for successes when “it takes two chambers and him to get this stuff done, and we’ve been instrumental in doing much of it.”

Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, was one of several lawmakers who found it “refreshing to see that the governor doesn’t want to raise taxes, and that he’s working on creating more jobs for Missouri. ... His goal of creating more jobs is the same goal we have over here in the House.”

Bernskoetter liked Nixon’s talking “about us living within our means, by not raising taxes, and keeping spending under control.”

However, he added, “He proposed cutting 863 jobs, but he didn’t propose cutting any of the staff in his office.”

Barnes and Kehoe also are concerned about Nixon’s plan to cut more jobs from the state’s payroll.

“We’re going to do our best to defend those jobs that are here in Cole County,” Barnes said, but noted that the Transportation Department already has cut 200 of those jobs, and “another large chunk, throughout a wide variety of state departments ... were cut through attrition already. ...

“But it is not as catastrophic as it first sounds.”

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