Missouri voters will be asked tomorrow to decide whether to change the state’s Constitution so that when a governor decides to withhold money for state programs and services the legislature can overturn that decision, as it now can a governor’s veto.
Proponents accuse Governor Jay Nixon (D) of abusing the power to withhold for political purposes, and say right now there’s nothing lawmakers can do to fight that alleged abuse. They say the passage of proposed Constitutional Amendment 10 would improve the balance of power between those two branches of government.
A fellow Democrat, Representative Chris Kelly of Columbia, calls those critics’ assessments of Nixon’s withholding decisions, “true and fair and irrelevant. Whether Nixon goes too far with withholdings is irrelevant to whether you need to balance the budget.”
Kelly says the passage of Amendment 10 would create the danger that future Missouri budgets could be unbalanced.
“In the Missouri system the Governor has the sole responsibility to produce a balanced budget. He may withhold to do so,” says Kelly. “This amendment would give the legislature the right to spend even if the governor thought he needed to withhold to keep the budget balanced.”
Missouri budget project spokesperson Tracy Gleason says if the legislature thinks Nixon is abusing his authority, they should take him to court, not try to change the Constitution.
“We don’t want to willy-nilly amend the state’s Constitution over a political disagreement, regardless of the validity of that disagreement,” says Gleason.
She says if the legislature could also fight future spending restrictions by creating “tighter” budgets.
“They get to decide what to appropriate. They can be more specific in their appropriations if they choose to be, as a way to sort of balance that out,” says Gleason.
Kelly, who after being involved in multiple budgets in four different decades, agrees.
“The legislature could work harder,” he says. “They could spend less if they chose, but they don’t choose to do that because it’s a lot of work and because it’s politically unpopular.”
Attempts to reach the lawmakers who handled the House Resolution that became Amendment 10 for comment in this story were unsuccessful, but earlier stories with comments from sponsor Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) can be found below.