At stake is one of the most high-profile bicycle races in the U.S. -- on par, in fact, with some of the best in the world. Nearly 120 world-class bicyclists, which may include Lance Armstrong, from 24 countries are expected to come to Missouri, that is, if the competition goes forward. The 500-mile race over five days was to begin August 31, with a start and finish line tentatively slated for St. Louis.
The state Division of Tourism and the ten-member Tourism Commission, which has sponsored the event since its creation in 2007, say the Division of Tourism cannot afford to make the $1 million contribution. Having seen next year's budget slashed from nearly $20 million to $13.5 million, tourism officials say, the agency had no choice but to sever its financial commitment.
"We love the event. It's colorful, fun, and it brings a lot of people to Missouri, but we can't afford it this year. We had to make a hard decision," says Tourism Commission chair Marci Bennett.
Mike Weiss, owner of Big Shark Bicycle Co., who chairs the Tour of Missouri, isn't buying the budget shortfall rationale.
"And if this race is canned, it will, I think, take a toll on his image. It will show his inflexibility -- and irritability."
Kinder, a Republican, is thought to be Nixon's most serious rival if the governor, a Democrat, runs for re-election in 2012, which he's fully expected to do.
Nixon's deputy press secretary, Sam Murphey, denies that any bad blood between the governor and Kinder factored in Nixon's decision not to impose his will on the tourism agency to free up the $1 million appropriation for the Tour of Missouri.
"The discretion on how to spend the state tourism budget was made by the Tourism Commission, and the governor supports that decision," Murphey says.
Nixon last year temporarily withheld funding but reinstated the earmarked $1.5 million two weeks later, and the race went on as planned.
On May 6, Nixon -- who has until the end of June to sign off on next year's state budget -- also received a letter of intent from Sen. Rob Mayer, chair of the Senate Appropriation Committee, and Rep. Allen Icet, who chairs the House Budget Committee, asking that he provide the $1 million funding request.
In an interview with RFT, Icet says, "Clearly the Tour of Missouri generates a lot of tourist dollars for the state, and I would hope that there are less-important priorities that could be cut from the tourism budget."
Last year's race, according to an economic impact statement, estimated that 500,000 spectators watched the contest at one of the 11 host cities in Missouri, and that the event generated $38.1 million.
"They [the tourism department) claim that for every dollar spent by the state, they get back two dollars," says a source close to Kinder, who asked not to be identified. "Well, last year they spent $1.5 million and got back $38 million -- so what's Nixon thinking?"
Rep. Icet says Kinder has long been a "big promoter" of the race. "So that means he gets a good share of publicity for it," says Icet. "And the governor is not keen on giving him any good publicity."
Says one race official who asked not be named: "Nixon and Kinder can't stand each other, and so if Kinder wants the race, that means it won't happen. The appropriation could have been a dollar, and still Nixon wouldn't have gone for it."
Kinder's office declined comment.
It was former governor Matt Blunt who made Kinder the point man on the Tour of Missouri in 2006, a year before the initial race, and Kinder served as the Tour's board chairman. Weiss says Kinder was removed from the board in order to depoliticize the event; Weiss took his place last year. Kinder is also a member of Tourism Commission's board.
Weiss says he has phoned and e-mailed Nixon's office as well as the Tourism Commission, asking for a meeting to plead his case, but no one has responded.
Murphey, Nixon's spokesman, says he' s unaware of any such requests from Weiss.
Counters Weiss: "They are going to let this die because of intentional neglect, and frankly, this is insulting."
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