A funding arrangement in the state budget is meeting resistance from a prominent lawmaker.
The spending plan for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1st, was approved by both the state House and Senate.
But the Senate changed a provision in a piece of House legislation afterward to reestablish full funding of nursing home care for low income seniors.
The House bill called for a repeal of a tax cut for low income senior renters in order to provide financing for the nursing care. Instead, the Senate supplied the funds by directing the Office of Administration to sweep $35 million from state accounts controlled by professional licensing boards and commissions.
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick says such a move is not legally possible.
“For every transfer of money from one fund to another, there is an appropriation for that in the state budget” said Fitzpatrick. “The constitution is pretty clear that the General Assembly shall have no power to basically go around the appropriations process. What the bill does in its current form is unconstitutional. The bill that they sent us is inoperable. It does not work. And even if I thought it was a good idea, it’s not constitutional, and there’s no mechanism for the money to actually get into the fund.”
Fitzpatrick also contends the Senate chose to sweep funds that would be better left alone and broke an agreement with the House.
“One of the funds that they are proposing sweeping is the tobacco fund, which we’d already had an agreement on how much tobacco money we were going to spend, and how much we were going to leave in the fund due to anticipation of a negative decision on this next tobacco lawsuit.”
The tobacco settlement money in question is $50 million returned to the state by a Missouri Supreme Court order after a $70 million ruling was made against the state in 2003.
The original court decision said the state had failed to diligently enforce the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement which was entered in the late 1990’s.
Fitzpatrick says the Senate is using all $50 million from the Supreme Court order after agreeing to set aside $20 million to cover costs for a similar high court decision from a 2004 lawsuit expected in the next fiscal year.
He further contends the departments the Senate exempted from its sweep all have more money in them than they need.
Fitzpatrick said problems involving the funding of the state budget aren’t going to go away, even though both houses have passed the spending plan to be presented to Governor Greitens.
“What I view it as is them basically just wanting to spend another $35 million without any way to justify it, or any savings anywhere to account for it.”
Fitzpatrick says he’ll respond to the Senate’s action, but won’t say what he plans to do or when it’ll take place. He only says that it’ll be during the current final week of the session.
He says if the Senate’s changes to the budget remain in place, money for nursing home care will be reduced because of the unconstitutional nature of the upper chamber’s moves.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t believe a special session will be called over the budget, although he won’t rule out the legislature working overtime because of other concerns.