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Nixon declares support for public-works program, before cutting projects from budget

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 18, 2009 - Nixon's announcement that he supports a massive public-works program may be aimed, in part, at softening the budget-cut blows that are about to come.

Wednesday afternoon, the governor's office released a copy of a letter that he sent to all 197 members of the state Legislature.

The letter says, in part:

"I am asking for your thoughtful help and input in developing a consensus financial approach to putting a capital investment plan before the voters that is both forward-looking and true to our shared commitment not to raise taxes.."

Nixon went on to note that:

"Congress has made funds available to cut dramatically Missouri's capital investment costs under the Build America Bond program. If we act quickly enough to qualify, the federal government will pay 35% of those costs. This program offers ... an unprecedented opportunity to invest in Missouri's future in a fiscally prudent way..."

The proposal comes as Nixon is just about to whack at least $100 million out of this year's fiscal budget, which ends on June 30, and much larger amounts from the budget recently approved by the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Nixon's cuts are expected to include some of the capital-improvement projects, using federal stimulus money, that the Legislature also approved in May.

Wednesday's letter appears to be aimed at offering to legislators an alternative method to finance the projects that he's about to cut, and that they support.

Nixon communications director Jack Cardetti said the governor's capital-improvement proposal would require approval by the Legislature, as well as a statewide vote. Cardetti said the last major state public-works effort was during now-Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond's tenure as governor (1973-77 and 1981-85).

Nixon is currently talking to legislative leaders to see if they are receptive to the idea, and if a special session might be productive, Cardetti added.

If the Legislature takes swift action, it's unclear when the bond-issue proposal might go before voters. The next scheduled statewide elections are in August and November of 2010. State law allows other elections to be held in February, April and June.

It's possible that a special statewide vote could be set for August or November of this year, although that would incur additional costs for the state and local election officials.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.