April 16, 2014

Legislature could ask voters to define governor’s budget restriction powers

Some state lawmakers have taken issue in years past with the withholding of money appropriated in the state budget by Governor Jay Nixon. Now, one plans to ask voters to weigh in on the issue.

Representative Todd Richardson (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Todd Richardson (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Missouri Constitution states the governor, “may reduce the expenditures of the state or any of its agencies below their appropriations whenever the actual revenues are less than the revenue estimates upon which the appropriations were based.”

Representative Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) believes there is no definition for what “estimates” that clause refers to.

“Unfortunately there’s been no real interpretation of that provision because despite efforts to do so, it’s been very difficult to get the merits of those cases heard before Missouri courts.”

He plans to propose an amendment to the Constitution to clarify the powers of a governor and when they can be used. How exactly that will be worded, Richardson says, still hasn’t been decided.

“I’m going to introduce an approach that continues to give the flexibility for the governor to reduce expenditures when there is an actual need to do that based on the revenue,” says Richardson, “but one that also gives the legislature the ability to remain relevant in that process.”

Richardson says the lawmakers that have raised concerns aren’t all Republicans.

“There have certainly been Democrats who have questioned the governor’s actions in withholding money … I think there’s pretty broad consensus that there’s a problem. I think the question is how we fix it.”

If the legislature approves such a measure it would go to Missouri voters.  He thinks the question they would have to ask themselves is a basic one.

“Do Missourians feel like the governor should have unchecked power to decide how the taxpayers’ money gets spent, or do they believe that as with all areas of government there ought to be checks and balances?”

Richardson hopes to have at least a draft of a proposed amendment ready by some time before the end of business on Thursday.