Bipartisan discussions have developed among Missouri House Budget Committee members who want to override several vetoes made by Governor Mike Parson.
While signing the $28.65 billion state budget June 29th, Parson issued 21 line-item vetoes, totaling more than $12 million.
Members of both sides of the aisle have questioned the reasoning of a number of those cuts, given that the state’s revenues were up 5.0 over 2017 at the end of the most recent fiscal which ended June 30th. Total collections were $9.47 billion for the most recent year compared to $9.02 billion in 2017. State Treasurer Eric Schmitt (R) released Missouri’s 2018 Fiscal Year End Fund Activity Report last week showing a general revenue surplus of $495,265,843.
Republican and Democrats in the House budget panel have focused a good bit of their energy on a $100,000 cut to the Child Advocate Office, the elimination of $50,000 to purchase Emergency Rescue Tourniquets for law enforcement personnel and the removal of more $153,000 to certify hospitals to treat trauma, stroke and heart attack patients.
The $100,000 reduction Parson made to the Office of Child Advocate prevents funding for two employees who would investigate child abuse and neglect cases both in the public and within state agencies.
During a late July House Budget Committee hearing to discuss the Governor’s line-item vetoes, Republican David Wood of Versailles said the money is needed for the office to function properly. “I think the Office of Child Advocacy is an extremely important function because if they don’t exist and they don’t do the audits, then we don’t know when our systems are not working the way they should,” said Wood.
Democrat Kip Kendrick of Columbia said the veto by Parson leaves the Child Advocate Office high and dry. “So, we can’t fix the system because we’re not willing to spend $100,000 and year to do it,” said Kendrick. “It’s an unfunded mandate coming from us which I think is ridiculous.”
In a letter to Kendrick, Governor Parson noted nearly $237,000 has already been added to the Department of Social Services to investigate child abuse and neglect. He said sending more money to the Office of Child Advocate wouldn’t serve the intended purpose of directing assistance to organizations and agencies that have direct contact with at-risk children
Kendrick also urged the committee to support an override of Parson’s veto of $50,000 in funding for Emergency Rescue Tourniquets for law enforcement personnel. He was joined in that sentiment by Republican Justin Hill of Lake St. Louis. The tourniquets are used to stop bleeding from injuries sustained by both officers and members of the public.
Hill, a former officer with the O’Fallon Police Department for 13 years, said the purchase of the tourniquets would save the state big money in the long term. “When an officer dies in the line of duty, the state’s going to pay a whole lot more than 50 grand, I can promise you that,” said Hill. “If a highway patrolman gets into an accident and happens to injure somebody, no fault of his own, the state’s going to pay out more than 50 grand. An officer is going to know when to use a tourniquet.”
There’s also bipartisan interest in overturning Governor Parson’s veto of more $153,000 to certify hospitals to treat trauma, stroke and certain heart attack patients. The emergency service is part of the state’s Time Critical Diagnosis (TCD) System that coordinates activity between the 911 response system, ambulance services, and hospitals.
Parson’s veto initially came at the urging of the state Department of Health which then reversed its position and decided it did need to certify hospitals but said it would find funding to do so elsewhere in its budget.
Republican Scott Fitzpatrick, the Budget Committee Chairman, claimed that shifting funds within the Health Department is unconstitutional because it would illegally move money away from a specific purpose the legislature had already designated it for. He said the shift also would leave another function inside the department underfunded.
During the hearing, Fitzpatrick said the Health Department’s move stretched the limits of reality. “We’re fighting over something we wanted to do, but then they said they didn’t want to do, but now they want to do it, and we’re telling them they can’t do it because they vetoed it,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s kind of like Twilight Zone.”
Democrat Tommie Pierson Jr. of St. Louis agreed with Fitzpatrick’s assessment that moving around funds within the department would leave other internal functions underfinanced. “This creates an imbalance somewhere, so this type of maneuver is problematic in that way, to begin with,” Pierson Jr. said.
Kendrick, who is the ranking Democratic Minority Member on the committee, told Missourinet there appears to be growing bipartisan will to override the governor on the three specific line-item vetoes dealing with child advocacy, law enforcement tools, and hospital care. “There was no agreement reached,” Kendrick said. “We didn’t take any votes. But at least there seemed to be bipartisan support in part of the discussion on potential overrides.”
The full legislature will gather for its annual veto session in mid-September. The agenda will be comparatively small this year as the 21 line-item budget vetoes that amount to a tiny fraction of the overall budget are the only items up for consideration.
Veto sessions have been more active and contentious in previous years when Democratic Governor Jay Nixon had rejected numerous pieces of legislation that were priorities of the Republican-dominated legislature.