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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican challenger Dave Spence said Thursday that Gov. Jay Nixon should place a moratorium on "unnecessary travel" — starting with himself — to shore up a state budget that already has relied upon $200 million from the state's reserves just two months into a new fiscal year.
Spence acknowledged that the travel restrictions wouldn't save enough money to fully repay the reserves, but he said the Democratic governor could nonetheless send an important signal about frugality.
"I think the governor needs to lead by example, and he needs to call a moratorium on unnecessary travel," Spence told The Associated Press. "If he's going to travel around the state to get photo ops, he ought to be paying for it himself."
Spence's suggestion came a day after Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich released an audit showing that Nixon's office shifted $1.7 million of travel, personnel and office costs to other agencies since his term began in January 2009 through June 2011.
Nixon previously has defended the way his office allocates costs to agencies. In a written response included in the audit, the governor's office said that it "accounts for its operational costs in a manner that properly reflects the nature of the work it performs."
On Thursday, Nixon campaign manager Oren Shur did not directly address Spence's call for a travel moratorium. Instead, Shur defended Nixon's general management of state finances and asserted that Spence has "zero credibility" on spending tax dollars because Spence once served on the board of a bank that has not repaid federal bailout money.
"Gov. Nixon balances the budget every year without raising taxes ... and has maintained the state's perfect AAA credit rating. So the governor's record on fiscal responsibility speaks for itself," Shur said.
Since Missouri's fiscal year began July 1, the state has borrowed $200 million from its $500 million Budget Reserve Fund for cash flow purposes. Spence said that doesn't bode well for the state. But the move isn't unprecedented. Missouri similarly borrowed $200 million in the first two months of the 2010 and 2006 fiscal years, according to records from the Office of Administration. The state constitution requires such cash-flow loans to be repaid to the reserve fund by May 16 each year.
"When you get tight like we are — we've already borrowed $200 million — you put a halt to unnecessary expenses until the ship is right again. You lead by example," Spence said.
Nixon was attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday. He flew there at his campaign's expense, not the state's, Shur said.
Nixon has ordered travel restrictions in the past. In April 2010, Nixon directed state employees to cut their travel by 10 percent in the next fiscal year as part of his plan for "right-sizing and refocusing state government." Nixon flew to Kansas City to make the announcement, then traveled the next day to Columbia and St. Louis to repeat the message. An AP analysis of flight records showed that in the month after announcing the travel restrictions, Nixon flew on state airplanes more frequently than before.