A Cole County judge has ruled that the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission can spend money on the state road fund, even though the state legislature did not appropriate the funding.

The ruling, by Circuit Court Judge Cotton Walker, could mean that thousands of Missouri Department of Transportation workers could be in store for a pay raise. If the ruling ultimately sticks, it could also help to stop the bleeding in the department that is short about 800 workers for its winter weather operations.

The Missouri Office of Administration refused to issue paychecks with increases to MoDOT workers back in 2021 because the pay raises were more than the amounts that state lawmakers had agreed on giving the department. The move triggered the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to sue, arguing the Office of Administration commissioner must allow spending that does not exceed the fund’s balance.

Walker cited a Missouri Supreme Court case, in which the high court ruled that the authorization giving the Missouri Conservation Commission the power to use and expend the Conservation Fund is enough to empower that commission to make payment decisions that go beyond the scope of legislative approval in budget bills. He said the same result must be required in the MoDOT case.

“The Constitution not only gives the Highways and Transportation Commission, like the Conservation Commission, express and exclusive authority to ‘use and expend’ the State Road Fund, but also declares both that the Fund ‘stands appropriated without legislative action’ and that the Fund is subject to the ‘sole discretion’ of the Highways and Transportation Commission,” said Walker.

Since the case is not final, both sides are not commenting.

The Office of Administration could appeal.

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