Amendment #10—the Missouri Gubernatorial Budgetary Recommendations Amendment—began in the Missouri House of Representatives as House Joint Resolution 72. HJR 72 was a legislatively referred bill that went through the complete legislative process. This measure came about because of the ongoing frustration and tension between the executive and legislative branches of state government over the budgeting and withholding processes.
Governor Nixon has used his executive powers to reduce or withhold funding for budgeted programs that were appropriated by the General Assembly. Oftentimes, this was done even when revenues were meeting projected income. The governor has defended his actions by saying they were necessary to balance the state’s budget, and he maintains that he is within his constitutional power in doing so. However, many members of the legislature have argued that the governor is infringing upon the separation of powers, as well as not respecting the governmental system of checks and balances.
The budgeting process must rely upon the General Assembly and the governor working together. The Missouri governor can veto funding for a particular line item, as well as veto funding for an entire program or agency. Currently, the Missouri Constitution gives the governor the authority to reduce spending whenever actual revenues fall below the estimates upon which the budget was based—the consensus revenue estimate that is usually agreed upon before the budgeting process begins.
Amendment #10 ultimately seeks to restore the legislative role in setting the state’s spending priorities.
Official ballot language for Amendment #10 is as follows:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to require the governor to pay the public debt, to prohibit the governor from relying on revenue from legislation not yet passed when proposing a budget, and to provide a legislative check on the governor’s decision to restrict funding for education and other state purposes?
State government entities expect no direct cost or savings. Local governmental entities expect an unknown fiscal impact.
A yes vote for this amendment will do three things: 1) require the governor to pay public debt; 2) prohibit the governor from using revenue from legislation that has not been passed through the General Assembly; 3) provide a legislative check on the governor’s decision to restrict funding when funds are available. It would further restrict his ability to increase or decrease line items in the budget.
A no vote will leave the Missouri Constitution as it is and will make no changes.
Those opposed to Constitutional Amendment #10 say that it is the result of a six-year dispute between the legislature and the governor. They also claim that it will make it more difficult, not only for this governor but for future governors as well, to withhold funding and to change the budget once it has been voted on and passed by the legislature. They maintain that making the governor’s ability to withhold spending contingent on legislative approval carries future risk and uncertainty. Opponents of this amendment say it would greatly reduce the flexibility that the governor has to make changes in order to balance the state’s budget, and it will make the budgeting process more difficult. In addition, they say it would limit the governor’s authority on that process.
Those arguing in favor of Amendment #10 say the governor should not have unchecked powers in deciding how taxpayer’s money is spent. Furthermore, they maintain that Governor Nixon’s withholding of funding has increased each year, clearly an abuse of constitutional authority. They state that these withholds should only be used in times when the state is truly facing a funding crisis, not as legislative leverage. Those favoring the amendment say it would put a very simple yet effective process in place that would protect the interest of Missouri’s taxpayers by providing legislative oversight on the governor’s decisions to restrict appropriated funding. In effect, it would allow the General Assembly to consider the governor’s withholds while the legislature is in session and allow for an override of his withholds by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.
Balancing the state’s budget using sound financial practices, while being respectful of taxpayer dollars should be the top priority for all elected officials. Amendment #10 seeks to place some limits on the governor while giving additional responsibilities to the General Assembly. This is the first time in recent history that a Missouri governor has clearly abused the line item veto to leverage his political position over state legislators. Presently, when lawmakers override line item vetoes, a governor can still block the spending by imposing restrictions on it. This is exactly what Governor Nixon did in September when bi-partisan legislators overrode 47 of his more than 130 line item vetoes. Overriding a governor’s veto is not an easy process, and generally it takes support from both sides of the aisle in order to do so. Amendment #10 would give lawmakers the power to override the governor by a two-thirds majority in each house, resulting in a more comprehensive system of checks and balances.
Voters will decide at the polls on November 4 whether Amendment #10 will become law, changing Missouri’s constitution.