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Nixon releases part of the withheld funds after HB 253 fails, legislature responds

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday morning that he is releasing $215.2 million of the $400 million withheld funds following the legislature’s failure to override his veto on House Bill 253.

However, $185 million remains restricted, Nixon’s budget director Linda Luebbering tells The Missouri Times.

“We will keep things restricted until we are more certain that we will have sufficient revenue to fund the budget,” she says.

The money could be released during the next couple of months, according to Luebbering, who says the administration makes monthly assessments to gauge where revenue is.

Linda Luebbering
Linda Luebbering

There are three areas that Luebbering cites as areas of uncertainty in terms of revenue and the budget:

1. The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which was listed as a concern in a statement from Nixon’s office. The settlement payment could be at risk, she says.

“The budget counts on $130 million from that settlement, but it’s too early to know how much of that we may or may not receive,” Luebbering says.

2. The budget assumes that a version of tax amnesty would have been approved in statute during this past session, she says, but the effort never made it across the finish line with the legislature.

The amnesty addition was supposed to raise about $52 million, she says.

3. Overall uncertainty with revenue in terms of consumer confidence.

Luebbering points out that a portion of the withheld funds include capital improvement projects — the office’s written statement says that totals $175 million — which she says is a two-year appropriation that doesn’t have to be released until June 2015 if the money is not available.

Among the released funds include  “$66.4 million for K-12 education, $33.7 million for higher education, $23.1 million for services provided by the Department of Mental Health and $11.3 million for programs at the University of Missouri and Missouri State University to train more health care professionals in southwest Missouri.”

“As Governor, it’s my responsibility to keep our state’s budget in balance so I applaud the General Assembly for sustaining my veto of this unaffordable bill and am pleased to make this funding available for these important priorities,” Nixon says in a statement about Hb 253.

House Speaker Tim Jones
House Speaker Tim Jones

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, disagrees with the governor about withholds falling within his realm of responsibility.

“My good friend and colleague Chris Kelly [a Democratic representative from Columbia] pointed out on the floor yesterday that Nixon has abused his authority an power relating to how he uses the state budget,” he says. “Withholds are unconstitutional and unlawful and he has been violating the law relating to his power as to budget withholds for nearly five years.”

Jones says a the governor “uses children as pawns in his political campaigns,” referring to the $66.4 million that was withheld for education. He says it’s an ongoing oversight on the part of the media to ignore that “Nixon is the only elected official to remove and harm education funding,” while the legislature, he says, attempts to increase it.

Once legislative pre-filing is available Dec. 1, Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, both intend to pre-file House Joint Resolutions that challenge, or “clearly define,” the governor’s ability to withhold money from the budget, according to a release from Richardson’s office.

“We have waited and waited for the Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue and during that time the governor has continued to ignore the boundaries of our constitution by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars while our state has a budget surplus,” Richardson says in the statement. “I believe the Missouri Constitution is clear in limiting the governor’s withholding power to times of emergency or funding shortages, but he has continued to challenge that limitation to the point we now lack clarity on this important issue.”

An additional statement of concern about the governor’s withholdings was released by House Budget Director Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood.