Representatives react to Gov. Nixon’s reprioritization of current fiscal year’s budget

The Missouri House of Representatives Bugdet Transparency Committee met to examine the lawsuit filed against Gov. Jay Nixon by State Auditor Tom Schweich about unconstitutionally withholding funds.

“They (the audit office) feel like it’s not constitutional for him to take money from the house to deal with the disasters that we’ve had in Missouri,” Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, said.

The $170 million in question, which was originally to be appropriated to state universities like MU among more than 45 other state programs and agencies, instead was designated to disaster relief funding without the notification or approval of the Missouri General Assembly.

“The governor withheld much more money than he had to from higher education in order to take care of the Joplin problem,” Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said.

Although Kelly said he does not believe the lawsuit will be successful, he said the governor should not do what he’s doing from a public policy point of view.

“When the governor moves money out of general revenue in an invisible way, that money is then not available for higher education,” Kelly said.

Kelly also said Nixon was given a significant amount of flexibility in the 2011-12 fiscal year’s budget. Kelly said that flexibility should be limited in the future.

“I think that’s the appropriate remedy, not a court case,” he said.

Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the main question at hand is how much leeway the governor constitutionally has to rearrange the budget set for him.

“It’s fundamentally a separation of powers issue,” he said.

Silvey, chairman of the house budget committee for the house, said he sent a letter to the attorney general regarding the governor’s re-prioritization of the budget before the state auditor filed the lawsuit.

“I was pretty vocal about not necessarily being in favor of the way the governor was handling the situation,” Silvey said.

Kelly said as a result of the governor’s withholdings, MU will not receive the appropriated amount of money originally set aside. This money would otherwise be going toward research, teaching and student aid.

Silvey said Nixon is unilaterally hurting MU right now.

“Essentially the university should be getting millions more than it is getting right now,” Silvey said.

Kelly and Thomson said that had the governor used money from the rainy day fund, which is taxpayer money set aside for emergencies, state programs could still be receiving the primarily appropriated funds.

“We’re looking at alternative ways to deal with the disaster rather than take money out of other appropriated funds,” Thomson said.

Budget committee members said they are not in control of what the next step of the lawsuit is. Schweich officially filed the lawsuit against Nixon on Aug. 26, following a regularly scheduled audit of the governor’s office.

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