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Schweich audit attacks Nixon for shifting staff, travel costs

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2011 - State Auditor Tom Schweich's latest audit takes a swipe at Gov. Jay Nixon's habit of having his administration's various department and agencies cover some of his travel and other costs.

The audit, released today, focused on the Department of Revenue (DOR). Among other things, the audit "found that the department paid nearly $26,000 in salaries and other costs related to the governor's office and the Office of Administration (OA)."

"In fiscal year 2009, the funds went toward one staff member in the governor's office. In fiscal year 2010, the funding increased to three members of staff in the governor's office and two in the OA," the audit said. "It appears these employees were located in, and supervised by, the governor's office and the OA and performed functions related to those offices."

"The DOR also paid over $9,500 for 35 flights of the governor's office, only four of which included DOR personnel," the report continued. "The audit questions the appropriateness of these costs because the travel did not always benefit the DOR and department employees were frequently not on the flights. As previous audits have indicated, paying costs of other state agencies like this circumvents the appropriations process."

Nixon's office has yet to respond. But the Missouri Republican Party used the audit as an opportunity to once again jab at the Democratic governor's frequent travels.

"At a time when Missourians are cutting back and the state government is tightening its belt, Jay Nixon has deprived cash-strapped state agencies of valuable resources by forcing them to pay for his costly trips on the state plane," said state GOP executive director Lloyd Smith. "Instead of putting more dollars towards job creation and educating our children, Nixon has skimmed half-a-million in taxpayer funds to pay for his flights of fancy," said Lloyd Smith, Executive Director of the Missouri Republican Party. "Now, Missouri's top government watchdog is once again blowing the whistle on Jay Nixon's travel and his efforts to bury the costs in other departments."

Republicans have been attacking Nixon for months over his travel bills, which have included close to $400,000 for flights on state planes since taking office in January 2009. Nixon has said he thinks it's important for the public to see their governor. He also has noted that many parts of Missouri are remote and not accessible by commercial flights.

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.