Nixon lauds GOP budget-cutting efforts, but wary of proposed prison trims
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 29, 2010 - Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday that, as part of the state budget-cutting, he might be amenable to alternative approaches for dealing with some non-violent inmates in Missouri's state prisons.
But Nixon emphasized in a brief interview that he would oppose any cost-cutting actions that might result in the release of violent prisoners. "I'm not going to sacrifice public safety for a (balanced) budget," the governor said.
One such cheaper alternative that he might consider, Nixon said, would be the expansion of drug courts, where judges often offer treatment options for first-time offenders seeking to avoid prison. Besides helping drug-users drop their habits, such treatment costs the state less than incarceration.
Nixon's comments were in response to some legislative talk in Jefferson City about cutting prisons costs beyond what the governor has recommended. State prisons chief George Lombardi has said that too-deep cuts could force the release of prisoners.
But Nixon's forceful public-safety comments were the exception Monday as he otherwise praised the Republican-led Legislature for its vigorous focus on the state's budget woes. Last week saw "very dramatic and positive'' developments, the governor said. As an example, he cited the Senate's decision to "take a day off'' to focus solely on the budget and possible reconfigurations in state government.
Nixon declined to discuss any of his possible objections with some of the legislative proposals bandied about, saying instead that he was directing his attention at the broader issue how the state can continue to deliver needed services during tough economic times.
Nixon, a Democrat, also made clear that he would continue to avoid partisan shots whenever possible. He side-stepped a question on how he would campaign for Democrats this fall while continuing to work with Republicans controlling the Legislature.
Instead, Nixon said he was committed to showing that "Jefferson City is far different from Washington, D.C."
Nixon's comments came after he had participated in a midtown news conference to announce the opening of a new St. Louis charter school, the Grand Center Arts Academy.
The governor has OKed the reallocation of $8 million in federal recovery bonds to help finance the charter-school project, which is estimated to cost up to $25 million.
Sponsored by St. Louis University, the new school is to be located in the former Beaux Arts Building, 711 N. Grand Ave., and across from Powell Hall. The project also is being funded with $14 million in federal "New Market'' tax credits financed through the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The tuition-free school is slated to open in August with 225 students in grades 6 and 7, with a goal of expanding to 750 students in grades 6-12. Temporary quarters for the first semester will be in the nearby Third Baptist Church.
Grand Center president Vince Schoemehl, a former mayor, and among those on hand at Monday's event, said the Beaux Arts building -- with its striking marble lobby -- has been largely vacant for decades. Some of the classrooms will be constructed in the five-story parking garage in the back of the building.
Nixon said the project epitomized the "solid investment'' that the state of Missouri is seeking, as it allocates the recovery bonds provided under the federal stimulus programs for certain types of construction projects.