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Gov. doesn't propose solutions for schools, highways

January 19, 2000
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The final State of the State address by Gov. Mel Carnahan ended with a serenade from children.

As he was concluding his address, the governor left the dais to join nine Lamar, Mo., preschoolers parading into the chamber. The children sang a song of thanks to the joint session for enacting a bill that provided more benefits for early education.

But Republicans charged the governor's presentation had no actual tune to carry through to the next year.

Carnahan outlined a few new initiates in his speech on Wednesday, but for two of the bigger topics before the state -- urban schools and the condition of Missouri highways -- he proposed no new programs.

Carnahan blamed a lack of a consensus for his decision to not recommend a highways proposal.

"Consensus is crucial because the reality is that we are either going to move forward together, or we're not going to be able to move forward at all," the governor told lawmakers assembled in the House Chamber for the joint session.

The absence of a plan quickly was attacked by the leading GOP candidate for the governor's seat.

"Our political leadership needs to take responsibility for building the 15 Year Plan, maintaining our interstates and finding Missouri a safe way home," said Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Congressman Jim Talent. "Anyone who drives in Missouri knows the real story."

Talent's comments were made in a "Republican State of the State" speech shortly after the governor's address.

In addition to highways, Carnahan also told lawmakers he did not have a legislative proposal for the loss of accreditation in the Kansas City school district or the problems that have emerged with the St. Louis City school system in the aftermath of court-ordered desegregation. Instead, he urged lawmakers to give the two urban districts more time to work out their problems.

"Our Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been working closely with both the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts to help them improve their academic performance and meet the requirements of the new standards within two years," Carnahan said in his address.

However, in the Republican's response to the State of the State, the Senate Minority Floor Leader Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, said the two years the governor's proposed is too long to wait for a solution.

"It's time for us to stop talking and start doing something," he said. "The real crisis is in urban schools."

While the governor took a wait-and-see approach to two of the state's major issues -- he had a couple of surprises for lawmakers in other areas.

"I am proposing legislation to require that every new handgun sold in our state must be sold with a child safety lock," Carnahan said.

The governor said his trigger-lock proposal is in response to the recent shootings in U.S. high schools as well as bomb threats that have been made to Missouri schools.

"Trigger locks are OK, but they certainly aren't the answer," said House Minority Leader Rep. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City. "It induces a false sense of security."

Scott was critical that the governor did not recommend penalties for failing to use the trigger lock.

"It's a fluffy proposal that doesn't do a lot," he said.

The other major surprise was the governor's endorsement of legislation that would make felony criminals of some drunken drivers.

"I propose those who have a blood alcohol content of .15 or above should receive a felony conviction on the first offense," he said.

Earlier this month, Carnahan had announced his support of thee proposal to lower the legal blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08. The maximum jail time for a first time offender also will be tightened from six months to one year.

Carnahan spent little time in his speech on his budget recommendations, that were released at the same time as his State of the State address.

For the University of Missouri System, the governor recommended a 5.5 percent increase in state funds for the university's general operating budget -- for a total of $442.1 million.

That is slightly below the General Revenue the 6.5 percent budget increase recommended by the governor for all of state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

General Revenue covers state funds the legislature is free to spend as it wishes. It does not include ear-marked taxes, federal funds nor agency-generated revenue like student fees.

With the tobacco settlement money, the governor endorsed plans already proposed by the legislature's Democratic leadership that Missouri voters get a say.

"We need to have a plan in place, and that plan must be sent to a vote of the people if we are to ensure that the settlement is not tied up in further lengthy litigation," Carnahan said.

Carnahan proposes a ballot issue to use 75 percent, or $250 million, in the first year to pay for a program that covers some of the cost of prescription drugs for seniors. The rest of the money would go to health and smoking-prevention programs.

Carnahan's proposal divided the two top legislative GOP leaders.

Scott said he thinks Missourians should vote on what to do with the tobacco money in August rather than November. Ehlmann, on the other hand, said he wants to wait until the actual money reaches the legislature before having the people dictate where it should go.

Both said they think the ballot proposal should include the option for voters to select giving the money to the taxpayers rather than to government programs.