JEFFERSON CITY - Republican leaders Tuesday called on the Natural Resources Department officials to tesitify before a joint committee that will investigate a document circulated in the department instructing employees not to talk to legislators about budget priorities.
The Joint Committee on Legislative Research is scheduled to meet this morning (Wednesday) to authorize the investigation.
"We want the committee to pursue information about the source of the memo and the scope of its distribution on an informal level," said House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County.
If the department director, the administrative officer and the employee beleived to have started the memo do not provide voluntary tesitmony, Hanaway said the committee would issue subpoenas to force it.
"They could end this debate today if they made information available to us," Hanaway said.
Gov. Bob Holden was in Kansas City but responded through a written statement charging the legislative leaders with an 'attempt to threaten mid-level employees.'
"Speaker Hanaway and Senator Kinder are not in a position to bully the governor of the state of Missouri nor will I allow state employees to be placed in a position to be intimidated by these tactics," the governor's statement said.
The document, which Hanaway said she believes was in the form of an e-mail attachment, instructs all department employees not to comply with budget inquiries from the General Assembly. It also threatens that doing so would be a firing offense.
Keenen Patterson, the Natural Resources employee who wrote the document, told the Associated Press that the notes were his accurate impression of what was discussed at a staff meeting last month. But he said they were not precise quotes and were not intended for wide distribution.
Hanaway and Senate Pro Tem Peter Kinder sited state law that makes it illegal for any director of a state agency to stop an employee from discussion angecy-related issues with members of the legislature.
The joint committee's chairman -- Gary Nodler, R-Joplin -- said this is an appropriate area of inquiry for legislative research. "The state law requires we fulfill our oversight responsibilities," he said.
Hanaway predicted that the first testimony would be heard next week.
"We are at a critical point of the session with only 60 days left to our budget deadline," Kinder said. "The people have sent us here to do the work together, but we need the information from department directors to make decisions about the budget."
Hanaway and Kinder said they met with department director Steve Mahfood Tuesday morning, but that they were not happy with the response.
"The department directors have been robotic," Kinder said. "They have said they are at liberty to defend the governor's budget as presented in January and specific questions should be directed to the budget director."
The governor's response said department directors have been involved in preparing his budget and their priorities are reflected in the governor's budget plan.
"These directors have been instructed to present fact and figures and discuss impact of cuts with Speaker Hanaway and Senator Kinder, but are not in a position, nor are frontline employees in a position, to set priorities for the Republican leadership in the House or the Senate," the statement said.
Hanaway has said that budget-writers in the legislature want priorities from agency officials on where cuts should be imposed if they have to be made.
The governor has said employees are free to respond to cuts proposed by lawmakers, but he has not addressed the explicit question as to whether state workers are free to offer ideas for budget cuts or prioritize spending areas within their agencies.
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