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Charges of political favors fly as budget bill stumbles

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 7, 2009 - After a fiery exchange over a budget bill that included an expansion in eligibility for the state's Medicaid program, two first-year state representatives accused one of Gov. Jay Nixon's aides of offering political favors in exchange for a favorable vote.

House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, was the first to make a public accusation of untoward lobbying Wednesday on the House floor. After debate on the bill ended, Reps. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, and Chris Molendorp, R-Belton, told reporters that Nixon's deputy chief of staff Dustin Allison said the governor would look favorably upon them if they voted for the bill.

Zerr said Allison told her, "I'm prepared to make a deal right now."

"And then I got very uncomfortable," Zerr said. "And I just excused myself and went back on the floor."

What's the buzz

As a health insurance agent and a former member of a local hospital board, Molendorp said he was probably a person who would be "on the fence" about the budget bill. But he voted "no" after receiving what he said amounted to a job offer from the staffer.

"I agonized over this vote for days," Molendorp said. "But when faced with that kind of proposition, I have no choice but to vote no."

Nixon's spokesman Jack Cardetti denied that Allison was engaged in any quid pro quo.

"Going back to the transition, (some) House Republicans specifically have asked us about jobs in the administration," Cardetti said. "We have never offered one of them a job, nor would we ever in exchange for a legislative action."

Still, the Missouri Republican Party called Thursday for an investigation. “Jay Nixon has a history of rewarding his campaign supporters with plum government positions and doling out extremely lucrative legal work to his top trial lawyer donors in a blatant pay-to-play fashion,'' said state Republican Party chairman David Cole. "Now he’s trying to bribe those who oppose his policies....

“The

The original budget bill that prompted the flap would have paid for the expansion of Medicaid by bolstered payments from hospitals. The Missouri House, however, voted 85-75 to send the measure -- which Nixon pitched earlier this year -- back to conference.

On Thursday, the House adopted a new version -- one that stripped out Nixon's plan. However, the money for Medicaid could go into a separate program in a Senate bill that's pending in the Missouri House.

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

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