JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s no secret that the Missouri Senate has had their issues with the Greitens administration in the Governor’s first year, but it now seems that the executive branch’s relationship with the House is now truly being tested.
Members of the House Budget Committee bristled during a Thursday morning hearing when they finally received some answers in regard to some of the questions they had about how appropriations were being used, but those answers aren’t necessarily the ones they wanted to hear.
The legislators on Thursday contended that the executive branch had shown “blatant disregard for the intentions of appropriations,” accusing them of abusing appropriations and creating new programs without the authority to fund them.
Lawmakers have questioned how the Greitens administration is appropriating funds to man the metal detectors posted at the visitors’ entrances and to fund the new prescription drug monitoring program put in place by Gov. Eric Greitens’ executive order.
Led by Rep. Kurt Bahr, the representatives questioned the Office of Administration’s director, Sarah Steelman, as well as a representative from the Department of Public Safety, in order to get answers on the subject of the metal detectors and how the contractors are being paid for.
The budget passed by the House and Senate in the past legislative session included $250k which they intended to be used to hire five more officers for the purpose of saturation patrols, not manning the metal detectors.
As Bahr stated before the committee, Capitol Police have more than 90 buildings which they are responsible for covering, and the force has a total of 26 officers currently on staff.
“They are stretched incredibly thin,” Bahr said. “But I was clear in my conversation in Budget that this wasn’t for metal detectors. That was not the legislative intent of how these funds are being used.”
“I’ve never heard you discuss the saturation until just recently, that wasn’t in my budget, that was in DPS budget,” Steelman replied.
The metal detectors have been manned by contractors, but the legislature elected not to continue that when they turned down a $750k appropriation in DPS’ budget.
Steelman said the contractors were being paid for under facilities management, which she says outlines in the statute that they can hire security guards throughout the state.
She shared the breakdown of funds used to pay for contractors, which amounted to about $88,000 in the 2017 fiscal year, with another $26,814.38 being used so far in the 2018 fiscal year.
Steelman and the DPS representative explained they are paying the contractors until DPS hires the security that was appropriated for, stating that two are set to begin on Oct. 1 and another in mid-October.
Steelman also told the committee that the metal detectors were not going anywhere.
But the representatives noted the Governor had made it clear that his administration had not purchased the metal detectors, and that, as they had understood it, the Governor disagreed with the policy.
“That somewhat informed my decision not to include the $750,000 in our House committee substitutes, and the Senate concurred in that position and passed,” Fitzpatrick stated.
But the decision to continue manning the metal detectors was made without any conversation with the legislators, with both Fitzpatrick and Bahr asking why they had never received any notification of the intent.
According to DPS, the scheduling of the Capitol Police officers has been revamped to provide patrolling and officers to man those checkpoints are inclusive with the metal detectors. But to do that, they’ll be pulling back resources from the 90+ buildings in their care and focus on the Capitol complex, and instead rely on outsourcing some of the duties, or as DPS put it “collaborating” with the Jefferson City Police Department.
That begs the question of how JCPD will contribute, and what level of resources that department will require or cost to meet the potential new duties. Thursday morning, City leadership was not aware of details regarding any collaboration.
But that only served to increase the tension, as things heated up even more as the discussion turned to the Governor’s executive order creating a PDMP.
In July, the Governor announced a plan to implement a PDMP with a no-bid contract with Express Scripts, worth about $250,000 to provide data to track prescription drug abuse.
Ross said it was clear the executive branch had circumvented the legislature’s authority to appropriate funds for programs and agencies to do as they pleased.
“It was not provided for in the appropriations. It was sprung on us. There was no discussion,” Rep. Robert Ross said.
Ross asked Budget Director Dan Haug if the budget committee had failed to be specific enough.
“You can spend up to this amount, and Governor, you manage that,” Haug said, telling the committee that the agencies were executing the statutory authority that they already have.
“So when I make an amendment and say that for a PDMP, we’re going to appropriate $0… are you going to get the memo?” Ross asked Haug. “Do we need to insert everything that we don’t want you to do? We shouldn’t have to go through and tell you what it shouldn’t be used for.
“There’s no limitations. If we’re going to play these word games, you guys can do whatever you want.”
With the conversations leading to more tense moments, exasperation became very clear on the faces of several legislators. In turn, it seems that the relationship between the legislature and the proclaimed outsider Governor has hit some bumps, and if the legislators need to adjust how they handle the budget, then that may be their only option.
“I want there to be a level of trust between the legislature and the executive branch,” Fitzpatrick said in response to Haug. “There are lots of things I would rather leave alone. This is, in my opinion, a breach of trust. So if I have to start putting out 10-month budgets and then do a supplemental, I’m not going to rule that out. What I would tell you is that we’re on thin ice. I don’t intend to put up with it. I’m one person, but I have a feeling of most of the other people here feel the same way.”
“You’re about to fly too close to the sun if you keep doing stuff like this,” he finished.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.