During the 2014 legislative session, HJR 72, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment was overwhelmingly passed by both the Missouri House and the Senate. Because it did not need a governor’s signature and because of the increasing tension between the executive and legislative branches of state government over the withholding of appropriated funding, this legislation was approved and placed on the ballot for the voters’ approval or rejection.
In defending his power to withhold funding, the governor maintained that it was necessary to do so in order to balance the state budget, a requirement under Missouri law. Legislators, though, believed that the governor was abusing his constitutional powers and creating an infringement upon the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. Voters sided with legislators and thus Constitutional Amendment #10 was approved.
Since its passage and becoming a part of Missouri’s Constitution, Amendment #10 has never been used; however, last week, for the first time in our state’s history, the Missouri House was successful in moving to override budgeted items withheld by the governor. It is important to note that the governor does have the authority to restrict spending if revenues are insufficient to fund the state budget. In fact, to date he continues to withhold more than $46 million in funds from the state operating budget for the current fiscal year of 2016 (which ends June 30 of this year). The position of the Missouri House is that the state’s revenue situation is heathy and that the governor has no reason to withhold funds by claiming they are needed to keep the budget balanced.
As a result, the Missouri House exercised its constitutional authority, forcing the governor to release $925,000 he had previously withheld from the 2016 budget. He withheld $575,000 from the Missouri Scholar’s Academy and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy. The Missouri Scholar’s Academy is an academic program for our state’s most gifted high school students, and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy is a program for highly motivated and talented students of dance, theater, visual arts, creative writing, and music. Traditionally, our state has provided funding for these academies, yet in recent years funding has been reduced or even withheld.
Furthermore, the House voted to release $350,000 to the Brain Injury Waiver Fund, a fund that is used to help provide care to Missourians with brain injuries, many of whom are currently on a waiting list to receive that help. Research shows that early intervention and treatment is necessary to provide critical services that will ultimately reduce long-term care costs. The program is meant to provide access to rehabilitation that will allow those who are injured to regain daily life skills and vocational potential.
It was pointed out that a reduction in the FY 16 supplemental budget (of $1.3 million) passed by the House can more than pay for the $925,000 in withhold overrides. The overrides will in no way jeopardize our state’s AAA credit rating or taxpayers’ income tax refunds.
Due to the power of Amendment #10, for the first time in Missouri history a governor’s withholds are being challenged and thereby forcing him to release appropriated funding. It is important to remember that the governor still has the ability to reduce expenditures of the state or of any state agency below their appropriations whenever the actual revenues are less than that revenue’s estimate upon which the appropriations were based.
Overriding a governor’s veto on budget withholds requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and of the Senate. The House withhold vetoes on the two bills had more than the required majority. They are now moving to the Senate where there is also strong support to override the governor on his withholds.
Hopefully, in the future both the General Assembly and the governor’s office will be able to work together to move appropriated funding, while at the same time not put the balanced budget in jeopardy.