State House Republicans  are criticizing Governor Jay Nixon (D) for the use of more than $390,000 in the past three fiscal years’ budgets for the Department of Social Services to pay dues to the National Governors Association. More than $206,000 of that has come from the Children’s Division within the Department of Social Services to pay dues to the National Governors Association.

The office of Representative Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) has offered documents it says show how that membership was paid for. They show money was taken from the appropriations to several agencies, but in fiscal years 2012, 2013 and in the current budget, the greatest amount came from the Children’s Division. About $69,000 was taken from the Division’s budget in each of those years. $32,000 was taken from Missouri Healthnet administration in fiscal years 2012 and 2014 and about $29,000 was taken from Missouri Healthnet administration in fiscal year 2013 and $28,000 from Family Support administration.

The National Governors Association is a bipartisan organization of the nation’s state governors. Through it those governors discuss policy and priorities and share best practices, and the association advocates on federal issues impacting states.

Allen, House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) and House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) say Nixon’s actions violate the title clause of that budget bill, that says, “no funds from these sections shall be expended for the purpose of costs associated with the offices of the Governor,” or the other elected officials of the state.

“The Governor and his staff know that we appropriated the money for a specific purpose; for children, for Children’s Services,” says Stream, “and they deliberately spent it somewhere else. To me that’s just deceptive.”

Stream adds, “[Nixon] basically misspent the money, and we’re hoping that he will not continue to do it.”

Jones says it’s an issue of transparency.

“There’s nothing wrong with the National Governor’s Association,” says Jones, “but if [Nixon] wants to spend money on that it should come from a delineated line item in his budget.”

Representative Sue Allen (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Sue Allen (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Allen took the issue up Wednesday at a hearing by the Appropriations Committee on Health, Mental Health, and Social Services, which she chairs. Department of Social Services Director Brian Kinkade told the committee the National Governors Association deals with federal issues, including those related to his department’s functions.

“One that has been worked on recently is the Prison Rape Elimination Act,” says Kinkade. “NGA’s been involved in advocacy with the states on that issue.” Kinkade says that act is related to the work of the Division of Youth Services.

Kinkade says the proposal to take the Governors Association dues came from the Office of Administration’s Division of Budget & Planning.

Troubles for Children’s Division answered with money this year

Nixon proposed and legislature appropriated an additional $5.1 million Children’s Division to create two new positions on its career ladder for child abuse investigators and other changes, meant to improve the Division’s response to child abuse investigations. That proposal is part of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal that is awaiting action by Nixon.

Deparrtment of Social Services Director Brian Kinkade (right) and Department of Mental Health Director Keith Schafer

Department of Social Services Director Brian Kinkade (right) and Department of Mental Health Director Keith Schafer testify to the House Appropriations Committee on Health, Mental Health and Social Services.

Republicans have pointed to that appropriation and asked whether there would then have been a better agency to have taken money from to page the Governors Association dues.

“Federal funds are as important for the Children’s Division as any in our Department, so in looking at how to allocate that across our Department that’s not an unfair allocation,” says Kinkade.

Kinkade adds, “I need to be very clear though: this in no way jeopardized direct services or field service for our child welfare program.”

Allen says that still is not the appropriate place to draw those funds from.

“They still used funds from a very, very, I’ll say ‘weak’ program; Children’s Division, because over the past few years we’ve had children die,” says Allen.

Kinkade says the money came from the Department’s central administration and would have gone unused if not used to pay for the Governors Association membership.

Allen isn’t satisfied with that answer.

“If these people were incapable of recognizing ways to go beyond and further support these children,” with that money, Allen says, “that’s a problem.”

House Republicans say they also want to know if other money being appropriated in the budget is being used for purposes they aren’t aware of or don’t intend.

“We’ll certainly take a look. A much closer look,” says Stream.

In a statement, Nixon says the same funding source has been used in past years and calls the issues the House Republicans raise a “diversionary stunt,” that will “fall flat with Missourians wondering why their elected representatives refuse to reform our ethics laws, rein in wasteful tax credit expenditures or provide health coverage to 300,000 working Missourians through Medicaid expansion.”

The documents provided by Allen’s office and communication with a then-staffer for former Governor Matt Blunt (R) suggest that the dues for the Governors Association were not taken from the Social Services budget by administrations prior to Nixon’s.

Nixon adds, “I urge these legislators to set aside these desperate distractions and use the time they have left in the session to work on making a real difference for the Missourians we serve.”