The Senate Budget Committee Chairman says it appears unnecessary for a special session to be called to pay for the National Guard and Highway Patrol response to unrest in Ferguson. Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) also says if one is called lawmakers are going to want some answers from the Nixon Administration.
In a conference call Friday Governor Jay Nixon (D) told lawmakers the cost of having those agencies in the St. Louis region is already projected to exceed what is in the budget for them. He says he will call a special session so the legislature can approve more money for them.
Nixon’s office says more information about the special session and the need for it will be released “in the coming days.”
Schaefer told Missourinet there appears to still be plenty of money in the budget to pay for state efforts in Ferguson. He suggests if any expenditures threaten to exceed budgeted amounts, those problems could be addressed in a supplemental budget when the legislature meets in regular session in January. That would save the cost of a special session.
Schaefer says according to the state’s computer system that tracks its budget, there is still more than $18-million in three lines that he believes could be used.
One of those covers emergency duties performed by the Guard. Nixon says that is one of the funds that is about to be overtaxed, but Schaefer said only about $762-thousand out of its $4-million has been spent.
Schaefer said another place in the budget where money could come from would be more than $11.6 million for expenses of, “any state agency responding during a declared emergency at the direction of the governor provided the services furnish immediate relief.”
In a letter to fellow senators and shared with Missourinet Schaefer wrote, “After researching this issue and discussing it with appropriations staff, I can find no apparent reason why the Governor cannot use this appropriation for either the Guard or Patrol given that he has declared a state of emergency in responding to Ferguson.”
He also said of the more than $51-million that remains in the Highway Patrol’s budget, at least $6-million of it is general revenue that could be used for Ferguson-related costs.
“There are a lot of options that we’re not quite sure why the Governor isn’t pursuing,” said Schaefer, “but we’ll find that out I guess.”
Asked whether outstanding costs might not have been accounted for yet, Schaefer said any obligation of money to date should be reflected in that budget program.
“Unless there’s something wrong with the system or they haven’t been entering [expenditures], those appear to be the amounts as of late Saturday that are available and on hand.”
Schaefer: lawmakers have questions about the state response to Ferguson
Schaefer said if a special session is called, he and other lawmakers will want answers about why the Nixon Administration has done what it has done in Ferguson before putting more money behind that effort.
“There are a lot of members of the General Assembly who, I think, have a lot of questions about how things were handled in Ferguson,” said Schaefer. “If the governor does call us back it’s probably going to give us the opportunity to go ahead and either bring in people from the governor’s office, from the highway patrol, from the guard, or potentially even the governor himself and get some answers to some of those questions.”
“If the governor is seeking additional public funds, it’s certainly relevant to find out how those funds are being spent,” Schafer said.
Such a probe could risk dragging a special session out beyond the timeline Governor Nixon appears to be favoring.
In a letter to the legislature, Nixon wrote, “Swift action is necessary to ensure both that these brave men and women can be paid on December 15 for their hard work on behalf of our state and that the resources necessary are available for any additional security and disaster response activities.”
Still, Schaefer says it is the legislature’s job to ask how state money is being spent.
“It appears that he’s saying that about $7.5 million that he had for emergencies is gone and if that’s the case it’s incumbent on the General Assembly to number one, find out where the money went, and number two, find out what additional funds are needed for,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said in any case, the legislature will continue to support the Highway Patrol and the National Guard.