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Nixon predicts more state layoffs, insists still buddies with Slay

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 20, 2010 -  Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon 

said today that more state employees will likely lose their jobs as he decides over the next few weeks how and where to trim about $350 million from the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Nixon -- who already has laid off at least 1,700 state workers since taking office 17 months ago -- said in an interview while in St. Louis that he lamented that more layoffs will be required to get the budget in balance.

The $350 million in cuts is believed to be necessary, the governor and his budget director say, because the budget approved by the Legislature earlier this month assumed that certain changes would be made in state spending, such as overhauling the pension system for public employees. The Legislature declined to approve many of those changes, which Nixon says means that alternative cuts will need to be made.

The governor once again made clear he will balance the state budget by cutting, not by proposing or seeking any tax hikes. "Revenue enhancements are not on the table for me," Nixon said.

But he cautioned against predictions that his pending cuts will fall most heavily on education and social-service agencies, which combined make up the bulk of state spending.

Nixon likened budget-trimming to "sharpening a pencil," and explained that he tries to shave small amounts from a number of areas of state spending, to avoid making deep cuts in a few departments or agencies.

As he did last week, Nixon said he wished the Republican-controlled Legislature had gone along with some of his spending-cut recommendations. But the governor, a Democrat, also praised some legislative leaders -- especially in the state Senate -- for making "solid, solid steps" in dealing with the state's budget problems.

Nixon's comments to reporters came during a stop this morning at Kingdom House, a community center for youth and children on the Near South Side. The governor awarded $195,887 in state tax credits to the center, under Missouri's Youth Opportunity Program.

Nixon has tried, and so far failed, to persuade legislators to impose restrictions on the state's tax credit programs. The governor said that the Kingdom House exemplified the proper use of tax credits, noting that the program is overseen by the state Department of Economic Development.

Nixon said his tax-credit targets are those programs -- notably the historic tax credits -- that are automatically awarded and have no ceiling.

Denies Strain With Slay Over Police Board

Nixon also discussed the other hot issue on his plate: the latest changes on the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, which he largely controls.

Nixon insisted that his relationship with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is "solid," despite their apparent differences over who should lead the board (and the fate of historic tax credits).

Still, the governor volunteered that he was surprised by the swiftness of the leadership changeover, which took place Wednesday right after his two latest appointees took their posts -- meaning that Nixon now had named a majority on the five-person board.

The Nixon bloc immediately elected as president one of their own, Bettye Battle-Turner. She replaces Todd Epsten, who had been named to the board by previous Gov. Matt Blunt. Slay supported keeping Epsten as president. After the coup, Epsten resigned from the board.

Nixon said he had not talked to any of his appointees prior to the vote. But he acknowledged, "It would not surprise me that folks on my senior staff would have dicussions along those lines."

He denied that Epsten's position as a Blunt appointee had anything to do with the decision to oust him as board president.

Nixon said his view was that the Police Board should focus on broader policy issues, and that he has had the perception that some previous board members have gotten too involved in the department's daily affairs.

"Micromanaging the Police Department is not something the Police Board should be doing," the governor said.

The new president, Battle-Turner, is married to a retired police officer and has a son who is a purchasing agent for the department.

Nixon said he hopes that the Police Board will soon be "getting away from the drama."

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.

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