Governor’s proposed budget could slash up to nine lake officers during height of summer season
A recommendation from Gov. Jay Nixon to curb state spending could spur debate around the lake if it means a reduction in the number of Missouri Water Patrol officers.
Among the $250 million Gov. Nixon is proposing to withhold from this year’s budget is a $5 million cut for the Missouri Department of Public Safety. That could include cutting 22 Water Patrol officers from the department’s payroll, significantly reducing the manpower available statewide.
The Water Patrol currently has 96 officers. Just last year, the state legislature passed a measure that lifted a cap that prevented the Water Patrol from having more than 99 officers.
The Water Patrol currently has 97 officers with 22 assigned to Lake of the Ozarks. If Nixon’s proposal is successful, that number could be reduced by nine if the cuts are made based on seniority.
The cuts would come on July 1, 2009, the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year, just as the Water Patrol heads into the busiest weeks of the summer season.
The budget process gets underway next week. Work on the budget will continue for the next three months. By state law, the budget has to be completed by the first Friday in May, according to Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, who represents a large portion of the lake area.
Purgason said he has not had a chance to address the issue with the governor but does intend to as the budget process progresses.
“Hopefully we can get this restored,” he said. “We have been working the last several years on increasing the Water Patrol’s funding and we don’t want to lose anything through the budget process.”
In the last three years, several key pieces of legislation have been approved in an effort to improve boater safety, Purgason said. It would be a step backwards to cut officers when there has been progress made by increasing boater education, getting more officers on the water, giving competitive pay increases and tightening the boating while intoxicated law.
“We don’t want to lose any progress we’ve made,” Purgason said.
Purgason is expected to play a key role in the budget talks. He is on Senate Appropriations Committee and chairs the Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee
State Representatives Wayne Cooper and Rodney Schad are expected to be outspoken advocates for the Water Patrol. Both have sponsored key legislation for the agency.
On the House side, Cooper serves on the State Parks and Waterways Committee.