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Republicans and Nixon poised for yet another budget fight

Saint Louis, Mo. — For the second time in as many years, Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican lawmakers aren’t seeing eye to eye on the state’s multi-billion dollar budget.

Nixon announced Tuesday that he was cutting the state’s budget by about $1.1 billion before signing it into law. Some of the cuts come from line-item vetoes to budget items, including increases to education funding. Other cuts stem from Nixon’s veto of a variety of bills passed on the final day of the legislative session that he said were giveaways to “special interests” in the form of tax breaks.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer
Sen. Kurt Schaefer

Nixon told reporters that he would release the funds — with education increases as a priority — if the legislature sustained his veto on a number of items, including the “special interest” giveaways.

The Democratic governor told reporters that Republicans in the legislature sent him an unbalanced budget and — thanks to the slower-than-predicted growth of state revenues — the state simply couldn’t do everything it wanted this year.

Nixon brushed off questions from reporters about his own proposed budget from earlier this year, which predicted even larger growth than the smaller budget from the Republican legislature. Nixon predicted a full percentage point more growth than Republicans and when the two sides couldn’t agree on consensus revenue estimates (CRE), budget discussions broke down.

The end result was a proposed Nixon budget estimating about $300 million more in growth than Republicans in the General Assembly. For the first time in several years, the two parties were never able to fully agree on the CRE.

“It’s to the point now where he’s a bit of a joke when it comes to the budget,” said Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who served as budget chairman in the House before ascending to vice chair of appropriations in the Senate. “He walks away from our CRE numbers because he believes growth will be a full percentage point higher, then after we pass a budget and leave town, he lashes out as us for spending too much and withholds money. He’s become something of a one-hit wonder.”

Silvey said it was irresponsible for Nixon to announce the cuts and withholds before the fiscal year had even begun and that Nixon’s actions are a “cynical ploy” to “work people up” over the budget. Silvey says Nixon’s characterization of the bills carving out tax exemptions is also wrong.

“Many of those bills were dealing with situations where [Nixon’s] Department of Revenue decides to reclassify something to collect new taxes,” Silvey said. “Nixon can’t just raise taxes by administrative fiat. And for some of these revenues, we’re talking about brand new taxes from DOR that were never collected, so I’m not sure how we can be giving anything away.”

Republicans also note that the tax breaks passed by the legislature went through the normal legislative process and have not kicked in yet. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia and chairman of appropriations, says Nixon is really withholding funds due to his own economic failures.

“Right now, today, we’re at negative 0.7 percent general revenue growth,” Schaefer said. “He’s driven the economy into the ground, and we’re now in a situation that no other state around us is in. He’s withholding funds because the state isn’t growing, and everything else is just smoke and mirrors.”

Schaefer also said Nixon was dishonest when he told reporters that Republicans had budgeted on tax amnesty but failed to pass it.

Sen. Ryan Silvey
Sen. Ryan Silvey

“The House budgeted on tax amnesty but the Senate pulled it out and it stayed out,” Schaefer said. “So that’s $54 million he says he has to make up that he doesn’t. It’s completely disingenuous.”

Both Schaefer and Silvey said the more responsible approach would be simply to withhold funds for some of the budget items, rather than veto them outright. That way, if revenues pick up, the items can be immediately funded.

“If we get into this year and he has an objective reason for believing we are coming in under budget – fine,” Schaefer said. “But the fiscal year hasn’t even started yet and he’s already playing politics by cutting funds for schools and kids with autism. It’s just shameful.”

Both Senators also said they were surprised at Nixon’s choice of which budget items to outright veto. Nixon told reporters he tended to eliminate new programs in tight budget years before slashing older ones, but Republicans quickly criticized his move to slash services for domestic violence and mental health.

“He never cuts from himself,” Silvey said. “He makes a single withhold of $50,000 of his own budget of $2.2 million, but he cuts domestic violence and mental health,” Silvey said.

Both senators voiced strong support for overriding the majority of Nixon’s line-item vetoes as well as the tax bills if the Republican-controlled legislature could wrangle the votes.