By CHRIS BLANK
(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — Missouri lawmakers moved forward Tuesday with a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to block spending cuts enacted by the governor.
The proposal comes amid frustration in the Republican-controlled Legislature over cuts enacted by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, including his freezing of several hundred million dollars while campaigning this fall to sustain the veto of a tax cut.
Sponsoring Rep. Todd Richardson said decisions about how money should be spent is the Legislature’s responsibility and that allowing one branch of government to claim duties of another upsets the balance of powers.
“What we tried to get to was a product that would still give the governor some flexibility to withhold (funding) when there is a reason for doing so, but to say that should not be an unchecked power,” said Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.
The House General Laws Committee endorsed the proposal after a hearing Tuesday. If approved by the Legislature, the measure would need statewide voter approval to be enacted.
The Missouri Constitution says the governor “may control the rate at which any appropriation is expended during the period of the appropriation by allotment or other means, and may reduce the expenditures of the state or any of its agencies below their appropriations whenever the actual revenues are less than the revenue estimates upon which the appropriations were based.”
Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the Legislature could override cuts with a two-thirds vote. The governor would issue a proclamation to the Legislature whenever the rate of spending would not come in equal quarterly payments adding up to the full appropriation or when the amount of an appropriation is reduced because revenues fall short. In addition, the governor would be barred from cutting funding to pay debt.
Nixon said in a written statement the constitution requires a balanced budget and that Democratic and Republican governors have fulfilled the obligation to control spending and balance the budget.
“This effort to amend the Constitution would weaken time-tested budget safeguards, allow for unrestrained Washington, DC-style spending and threaten Missouri’s spotless AAA credit rating,” Nixon said.
The most recent budget dispute between Nixon and the Legislature arose this fall. The governor froze $400 million for education, building projects and other government services when the current year’s spending plan took effect July 1, while citing concerns lawmakers might override his veto of a tax cut. Nixon argued the tax cut would have punched a hole in the state’s budget.
Missouri started the fiscal year with a cash balance of $450 million, and Republican lawmakers criticized the spending freeze as unjustified.
Nixon released $215 million after the veto override attempt was unsuccessful and has since made additional funds available. Still restricted is $134 million for capital improvements.
Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey also has proposed a constitutional amendment focused on the budget. It seeks to curb the governor’s budget power over education spending.