Six hours into the annual veto session the House continues to take up and vote on overriding cuts made in the state budget by Governor Jay Nixon.
State representatives have been working from a list of 51 items totalling more than $61 million. While debating $4-million dollars for the Utilicare program, that provides low-income Missourians with help buying fuel and paying for utilities, lawmakers argued the Democrats’ and Republicans’ respective positions on what is wrong with Missouri’s budget and whose fault it is.
Maryland Heights Democrat Bill Otto was critical of the Republican-led overriding of budget vetoes, saying the legislature should have settled funding issues when it worked on the budget in the spring.
“The fact of the matter is, we’re piling up the budget, and in a couple of years we’re looking at the tax break,” says Otto, referring to a phased-in tax cut that the legislature enacted over a Nixon veto earlier this year. “There’s so many items here, and for us to just continue to pile on and pile on and pile on, what’s the overall cost going to be? Where are we going to end up with all of this?”
House Floor Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, accuses Democratic Governor Nixon of vetoing important programs while maintaining funding in the budget for his travel expenses.
“We talk about priorities,” says Diehl. “Our priorities out to be on things that help the taxpayers of this state and not having parties out-of-state at conventions, or joining the American Goat Association.”
Gladstone Democrat Jon Carpenter says the items Republicans are criticizing the governor for make up less than one-one-hundreth of one percent of the state budget.
“Let’s be real. Let’s be serious. Let’s be legislators,” argues Carpenter. “We didn’t get sent here to play political games and to say, ‘Oh, it’s all the governor’s fault that he’s spending that fraction of one percent and therefore we don’t have enough money for victims of rape. What an insulting and terrible thing to say.”
Republicans have accused Nixon of being “vindictive” with the budget restrictions and vetoes he made.
“He went for the most egregious possible vetoes he could to try to rub the salt in the wound because he’s made about us overriding him this year on an income tax cut,” says Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, Eureka. “He goes after kids, the mentally disabled, the elderly, and the list goes on.”
The House voted to restore the $4-million dollar line-item for Utilicare.
Money for the items that the legislature votes to restore in the budget can still be withheld by the governor, who says the state doesn’t have the money to pay for them.
Some lawmakers say they hope to complete the veto session today, but that could cause lawmakers to have to stay late into the night. The veto session can not run for more than ten days.