The Missouri legislature’s annual veto session takes place two weeks from Wednesday and there’s growing bipartisan support to overturn some of Republican Governor Mike Parson’s moves. While signing the $28.65 billion state budget June 29th, Parson issued 21 line-item vetoes, totaling roughly $12 million. Members of both parties in the House Budget Committee have centered their attention on three of those vetoes to override.
One is Governor Parson’s rejection of more $153,000 to certify hospitals for 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 of Shell Knob, 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.
Parson then stood by his veto and reiterated that services for trauma, stroke, and heart attack patients would not be impacted.
“We’re talking about a $1.4 billion budget item,” Parson says. “If we can’t figure out as leaders in this state how to manage $153,000, we’re probably not doing the job as we need to be doing up here (in Jefferson City).”
Fitzpatrick doesn’t think Parson has the constitutional authority to transfer money around within the agency. “The idea that you can veto all the money that’s designated for a program until you need to pay for that program is an unprecedented interpretation of executive power,” said Fitzpatrick.
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.
Fitzpatrick notes that veto overrides have not been finalized by lawmakers and says he’s open to finding common ground with Governor Parson over their differences. “I’m hoping we get somewhere with the administration and come to some sort of amicable resolution to it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ll hold out hope that that can happen for probably another week or so until we get close to veto session.”
Still, members of both sides of the aisle have questioned the reasoning of a number Parson’s 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 recently showing a general revenue surplus of $495,265,843.
Republican and Democrats on the House Budget panel have also focused a good bit of their energy on a $100,000 cut to the Child Advocate Office. It prevents funding for two employees who would investigate child abuse and neglect cases both in the public and within state agencies.
In a letter to House Budget Committee Ranking Democrat Kip Kendrick of Columbia, Governor Parson stated 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 thinks the veto 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.”
Both Republicans and Democrats on the Budget Committee have said there’s a need to replenish the money Parson stripped from the program.
A third override the group of lawmakers is looking at is Parson’s veto of $50,000 in funding for Emergency Rescue Tourniquets for law enforcement personnel. The tourniquets are used to stop bleeding from injuries sustained by both officers and members of the public.
Republican Justin Hill of Lake St. Louis, 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.”
Budget Chair Fitzpatrick says if Governor Parson simply refuses to negotiate on the three vetoes with bipartisan opposition, then lawmakers will vote to overturn his actions. “If we don’t have any other solution in place by veto session, then I would think that there would be a strong bipartisan coalition of lawmakers that are going think that the best thing to do is override that veto.”