The state House has for the first time voted to overturn budget restrictions made by Governor Jay Nixon (D).
The House voted to use the power given to the legislature when voters approved Amendment 10 to the state Constitution in 2014, to overturn budget restrictions by governors. Legislators – mostly Republicans and some Democrats – have long accused Nixon of withholding money under circumstances that don’t meet those laid out in the Constitution for him to do so. With that criticism as part of the argument, legislature put Amendment 10 before voters in November, 2014, and it was approved.
The House voted to use that power to release $575,000 in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget for the University of Missouri Scholars Academy, a program for gifted students entering their junior year of high school, and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy at Missouri State University; and $350,000 for a program to provide waivers for brain injury sufferers to stay out of nursing homes.
Governor Nixon, when making those restrictions, said they were necessary to keep the budget balanced, but House Budget Committee Vice-Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the state has plenty of money for those programs.
“Not only are we meeting the revenue forecast that we made when we passed the budget last year, we are blowing it out of the water,” said Fitzpatrick. “By the governor’s own admission he’s going to have $280-million in the bank [when the 2016 fiscal year ends] on July 1.”
The motions had bipartisan support. Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) said the money for the Scholars Academy and Fine Arts Academy is appropriated every year and the governor consistently withholds it.
“This allows gifted students to attend a camp in the summer. It is one of the last things that we do for our gifted students in the State of Missouri,” said Montecillo. “Many of these students are low-income students. They would not have this opportunity if it were not for this appropriation.”
Some from both parties argued the governor is doing his duty under the Constitution, to keep the budget balanced. Representative John Rizzo (D-Kansas City) said releasing those restrictions would be irresponsible and could start a dangerous pattern.
“This is what Illinois, who’s still passing a budget for last year by the way, this is how you get there,” said Rizzo. “You start peeling away, ‘I’m going to release this, I’m going to release that,’ next thing you know we’re not waiting until we get above the revenues. We’re going to release it when we get the first dollar in. Then you start going to month-to-month budgeting and we’re Washington D.C.”
The two override motions passed with bipartisan support and now go to the state Senate.
Nixon issued a statement in response to the House’s vote saying he is, “surprised and disappointed that the House, during tax season, is attempting to to increase government spending, rather than pay the tax refunds that are owed to hardworking Missourians.”
“As Governor,” Nixon writes, “I will continue to fulfill my obligation to keep the budget in balance, protect our AAA credit rating, and pay Missourians the tax refunds they are owed.”