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The Tour of Missouri gets reprieve as Nixon releases state money for it

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 14, 2009 - Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday he was releasing $1.5 million in state money so the Tour of Missouri bicycle race could go on as scheduled in September.

Last week, the Department of Economic Development had told the Division of Tourism it could not spend money for the bicycle race because of its effort to close a budget gap. The Tourism Commission voted unanimously on Friday to reaffirm its support for the race, which is in its third year.

Tuesday, Nixon released a statement saying that because tourism officials had pledged to be open and accountable about how the state money would be spent on the race, he would release the money.

"Missouri currently faces tremendous financial challenges," the statement said, "and the state must find ways to reduce spending. Even as my administration continues to tighten its belt, I believe that the 2009 Tour of Missouri should go forward. The race will go on this year, and Missourians deserve to know that state funds for the event are used transparently and accountably.

"Because of assurances from the Division of Tourism and the Tour of Missouri Inc. that they are now willing to share records regarding spending on previous races and planned spending for this year's race, the Office of Budget and Planning will immediately begin to provide state funds for the 2009 Tour of Missouri."

The $1.5 million become the latest point of contention between Nixon and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a champion of the race and a political antagonist of the governor. When the money for this year's race appeared to be in jeopardy, Kinder took the lead in drumming up support for it to be paid.

A few hours after Nixon’s announcement, Kinder addressed supporters of the race in a conference call from Kansas City, thanking them for keeping the pressure on. He also got in a few digs at the Democratic governor, noting that last fall, Nixon was quoted as ridiculing the race that has been a pet project of Kinder.

“Today is the first day we have had any indication from Gov. Nixon that he is supportive of our efforts,” the Republican lieutenant governor said. “Today, we know he has been converted to the ranks of supporters. I am thrilled with that outcome.”

He noted that the drama over the past six days about whether the race will occur may, ironically, give it “a little more supercharged effect. We think it can be bigger than ever.”

Noting that the race has “put Missouri on the map in the cycling world in its short two-year existence,” Kinder added:

“This is not my victory, it is your victory, and it is a victory for the state of Missouri.”

This is the final year of a three-year contract for the race, which Kinder calls the most viewed sporting event in Missouri history. Last year, officials said, it drew more than 400,000 spectators and generated more than $30 million for the state. This year's race is set to begin in St. Louis Sept. 7, Labor Day, and end in Kansas City on Sept. 13.

Several teams from the Tour de France are expected to compete in the Missouri event.

Read the Beacon's earlier stories below.

The Missouri Tourism Commission voted Friday to reaffirm its support for the Tour of Missouri bicycle race despite a move from the state to freeze $1.5 million for the event.

The order to withhold the money came earlier this week as part of the state's effort to close a budget gap. Supporters of the race have noted that the event, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators, is set to begin on Labor Day. If it doesn't go ahead as scheduled, the state could face contract disputes that might eventually cost as much as it is trying to save.

In a conference call with members of the Missouri Tourism Commission, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who chairs the commission and has been one of the race's biggest boosters, said that the move by the state is an effort to strip the commission of its authority that has never been done before.

His chief of staff, Rich AuBuchon, put it this way:

"This type of action is unprecedented and I believe usurps the power of the commission in every respect. Frankly, it upsets the balance of government as most people would understand it."

Bob Smith, interm tourism director, said that even if tourism commissioners were willing to cut their budget in other places to come up with money to spend in on the Tour of Missouri, state officials would not let them do so.

Earlier, commissioners had been told that the Division of Tourism had been notified to submit all vouchers for spending to the state for approval and could pay nothing on its own.

With less than two months to go before the St. Louis-to-Kansas City race begins, Kinder said that the state is "incurring a certainty of a breach of contract lawsuit" if the order to withhold state funds goes forward.

"Contracts have been signed, hotel rooms have been booked, all kinds of arrangements in the hundreds of thousands of dollars have been made," he said. "If the ax falls on this, it will not, I repeat, it will not save the state $1.5 million."

Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vernon, a member of the commission, echoed Kinder's sentiments, saying:

"We're on the hook for it. Either we end up paying for it and have the benefit of a tourism increase, or we'll pay for it in legal fees and have nothing to show for it."

The race is in the final year of a three-year contract. Members of the commission stressed that pushing to live up to the current commitment does not necessarily mean they want to extend the race beyond this year. But Bob Smith, interim tourism director, said it has been valuable to help the state's image in the U.S. and beyond.

"We have publicity that we don't have enough budget to buy," Smith said.

Kinder said he would be willing to press the case for continued state money for the race with Gov. Jay Nixon, who will have the final say on whether the $1.5 million commitment is fulfilled. The two men have not had the best relationship, but a spokesman for Nixon said Thursday that there are no political considerations in the move to withhold the money.

Kinder, who has noted the tourism and economic impact of the first two years of the competition, stressed the importance of not disappointing the many areas of the state that will host part of the race -- and of spreading the good word about Missouri.

"A lot of us feel this is the best opportunity we could ever have to rebrand Missouri for a national and an international audience," he said.

"We have the clock ticking on us."

The commission has set another meeting for Monday morning to discuss its budget.  

Read the earlier Beacon story below.  

A big hole in the Missouri budget may derail the Tour of Missouri bicycle race scheduled to begin in St. Louis on Labor Day.

With less than two months to go before the start of the third year of the race across the state, organizers of the event found out this week that the director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development is recommending that $1.5 million be cut from the budget of the Division of Tourism.

That amount, for an event whose overall budget is $3.3 million, would mean the race could not be held, said Chris Aronhalt of Medalist Sports in Atlanta, which manages the event.

"Obviously, it would be devastating," Aronhalt said. "Definitely the race would not occur."

The $1.5 million cut is part of an overall reduction of $9.9 million recommended by Linda Martinez, head of economic development, to Budget Director Linda Luebbering. The final decision is up to Gov. Jay Nixon.

The issue may not be purely financial. Relations between Nixon and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has been the champion of the Tour of Missouri since its inception, have been frosty at best of late.

"They say this is a budgetary issue," said Gary McElyea, a spokesman for Kinder. "We do not think it is.

"If you were to ask me if this is political, I would say it is very likely politically motivated."

Asked about possible political motivation for the cut, Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the governor's office, said: "Of course not."

He explained that departments of state government have been asked to cut where they can to help close the budget gap. Nixon has been given their recommendations and will make the final decisions in the next couple of weeks.

"The governor has held or cut back $430 million this year so we don't end up like states like Illinois and have to raise taxes or cut programs," Cardetti said. "We're doing what Missouri families are doing, tightening our belts so we can afford the things we really need. The governor supports a lot of things that the state is not able to afford right now.

"Of course, it would be easier just to fund everything. That's how you end up like California or Illinois. The governor is taking a very fiscally conservative approach."

Bob Smith, the acting director of the Division of Tourism, said cuts had been identified in his budget, as requested. But, he added, "the tour has never been part of the cuts."

McElyea, of the lieutenant governor's office, said that last year, the bicycle race was the largest sporting event ever in Missouri, drawing more than 400,000 spectators and generating more than $30 million for the state. This year's event, which is scheduled to begin in St. Louis Sept. 7 and end in Kansas City on Sept. 13, is the final race in a three-year commitment made in 2006.

"When you get that kind of a return on an investment," McElyea said, "especially in this tough economic time, that is the kind of investment you want to be making.

"This came as a complete shock to us, but we're going to do everything we can to fight."

Aronhalt said that because of contractual commitments, including meals, sponsorships, hotels and more, if the race is called off the losses that result might be more than the $1.5 million that the state is cutting. He noted that seven teams currently competing in the Tour de France had the Missouri race as their next stop.

"Trying to unravel all those commitments would be very complicated," he said. "All our host cities are extremely concerned and shocked by what has happened."

He said he understands that financial straits that Missouri is in, but he said that money for the bicycle race is an investment that pays, not one that costs.

"Obviously we're respectful to the economic times," Aronhalt said, "but last year we received about a 30-1 return on investment in terms of economic impact and exposure."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.