Legislative Republicans say they might use their new power to release money the governor is holding back sooner than later. Governor Jay Nixon’s budget chief says they’ll have to wait.
“Probably in January, my guess would be, we’re going to get a tryout of Amendment 10 fairly early,” House Speaker-Designate John Diehl, Junior tells reporters.
Diehl is referring to the amendment passed by voters Tuesday that allows the state legislature to vote to override a governor’s decision to withhold money in the budget in the same way it does a veto. Nixon is still restricting more than $503-million in General Revenue, and Diehl says lawmakers might try to release some of that.
“There’s still, as I understand, hundreds of millions of dollars of withholds yet the governor is attempting to prepare a fairly significant supplemental budget,” says Diehl. “How do you have a supplemental budget saying there’s additional moneys to appropriate while you’re withholding money saying the money’s not there?”
State Budget Director Linda Luebbering says there isn’t necessarily a way to connect withholding money on one hand while asking on the other for more to be appropriated in a supplemental budget. She says funding requested in a supplemental budget could be for programs considered more important or more imperative than the items for which money is being withheld.
“For example one we typically have in the supplemental process is if mental health needs more funding for overtime for their staff. That’s a perennial supplemental,” says Luebbering. “They have to pay the staff that money and they have to have those staff because they’re working in 24-hour institutions. We can’t tell those people not to show up.”
Luebbering says the governor had to withhold money in the budget because it was based on a projected growth in state revenue of 11-percent, and the state is only projected to experience a growth of 5.2-percent, causing him to have to withhold money.
Further, she doesn’t believe the legislature can use its new Amendment 10 powers on withholds that have already been made.
“The Amendment is not backward-looking. The attorneys, I’m sure, will probably argue about that, but when new law goes into effect it’s forward-looking,” says Luebbering. “If the governor took new actions after that amendment goes into effect which is 30 days after voters approved it, then those new actions would be eligible for the new process. Actions he’s already taken are not.”
Republicans have said they are still reviewing the state’s budgetary situation and whether they could use the Amendment 10 process on withholds already in place.
Diehl and other legislators on both sides of the aisle have accused Nixon of using withholds to try to force the legislature to act in a way he wants it to on specific pieces of legislation or vetoes. Diehl says the vote on Tuesday shows Missourians agree with that criticism.
When they do have that ability, Diehl says it will be used responsibly.
“If there’s a withhold because it clearly needs to be withheld, we’re going to respect that, but if it’s something that’s just being used for blackmail or leverage in other political situations, I don’t think we’ll hesitate to use the constitutional powers that the voters gave us,” says Diehl.
Video: Speaker-designee Diehl thinks voters sent Gov. Nixon a (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)