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Schweich chides Nixon for cost-shifting, travel documentation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 5, 2012 - State Auditor Tom Schweich is chiding Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration for using money from other state agencies to pay for gubernatorial expenses.

That's one of the highlights of an audit of the governor's office released Wednesday by Schweich, a Republican. (Nixon is a Democrat.) The audit also cited:

  • $1.7 million of the governor's office expenses from January 2009 to June 2011 were charged to and paid from appropriations of other state agencies. Some expenses, the audit stated, went toward the governor's personnel and travel costs.

The audit notes that “similar practices have been noted in reports on prior administrations.” But the report said that “the magnitude of shifting of personnel and operating costs has significantly increased with the current administration.” If Nixon’s office had not allocated expenses to other state agencies, “both the office and mansion would have exceeded its appropriation authority each year.”

  • Nixon’s office “does not document and justify the reasons why lodging and meal standards are exceeded, and airline tickets are not purchased at least 21 days in advance, as is required by the state travel policy.”
  • A gubernatorial employee who lives in St. Louis stayed for approximately 150 nights in a Jefferson City hotel at a cost of almost $12,000. The audit stated that the employee could have picked a more affordable hotel.
  • The administration “does not evaluate whether commercial flights would be more economical than state planes for out-of-state trips.”

Schweich gave Nixon’s administration a “fair” rating, the auditor's second lowest designation.
In response to Schweich’s point about using money from other agencies, Nixon’s office wrote in the audit that it “accounts for its operational costs in a manner that properly reflects the nature of the work it performs.” And after noting that the office “follows state travel policy,” Nixon’s office responded that “circumstances require some deviations from the policy but efforts to ensure the most cost effective means are implemented.”

As to the St. Louis employee, Nixon’s office responded in the audit that the “arrangement was based on particular circumstances surrounding a particular work assignment.” Nixon's office added that it “does not foresee those circumstances arising again, but should they arise, will again ensure that the arrangement is reasonable and cost effective.”

Sam Murphey, a spokesman for Nixon, deferred to the administration's response in the audit when asked for additional comment.

Some of the issues cited in the audit, especially how governors handle travel expenses, have been contentious for years.

The Associated Press reported back in 2009 that Nixon’s administration was charging agencies for his flights. Nixon has argued that it was appropriate to bill other entities, especially when officials were with the governor on trips related to their duties.

By comparison, Nixon’s predecessor – Republican Gov. Matt Blunt – used private air travel. While Blunt argued the move saved taxpayer dollars, the practice was criticized by Democrats for shielding those who paid for the  travel. Blunt eventually started using the state plane for travel in 2008, after he announced he would not seek a second term.

In any case, Jared Craighead -- the campaign manager for Republican Dave Spence, Nixon's opponent in November -- said in a statement that Schweich's audit "makes clear that Missouri needs a new CEO focused on creating jobs instead of a governor who spends his time raiding other state agencies’ budgets to pay for his housing, meals and travels.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.