Holden vows to give veto to DESE budget

Friday, May 23, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In his latest veto declaration, Gov. Bob Holden said Thursday that he will reject the $4.5 billion budget approved by lawmakers for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Holden also intends to announce today when he will call lawmakers into a special session on the budget.

The Republican-led Missouri Legislature cut the department's budget for the upcoming fiscal year by $170.1 million, or 3.7 percent, from current appropriations. The department budget is $213.1 million lower than what Holden requested.

"Missouri has the resources and ability to do better," Holden said. "We do not have to make these cuts."

The governor left open the possibility of announcing more vetoes today, but does not plan to reveal then what tax increases he will be asking lawmakers to refer to voters as a way to avoid the cuts.

Some Republicans say the Missouri Constitution bars the governor from vetoing the education appropriations bill, an interpretation Holden and his top attorney dispute.

Four of 13 down

So far Holden has vowed to veto four of the 13 spending bills that make up a nearly $19 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Those bills account for 65.3 percent of total state spending and 75.2 percent of net general revenue, the state's most flexible funding source.

In addition to DESE, Holden's vetoes would cover appropriations for the departments of higher education, social services, mental health and health.

In addition to increasing spending for key departments, Holden wants lawmakers to endorse a tax package that would generate more than $700 million during the last half of the fiscal year. Such an increase would require voter approval in November.

Republican leaders said they simply will pass again roughly the same budget they sent the governor before the regular legislative session ended a week ago. Both Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau and House Speaker Catherine Hanaway of Warson Woods have said there is little support for a tax increase among lawmakers or the public.

The section of the constitution relating to the governor's line-item veto power on budget bills says the governor shall not use it to reduce appropriations for the state debt or free public schools. However, there is no specific restriction when it comes to vetoing an entire budget bill.

Hanaway said that if vetoing a portion of education spending is unconstitutional, then it follows that rejecting the entire package would be as well.

A sentence in a 1992 Missouri Supreme Court decision seems to support that view. In that opinion the court said "the governor is granted broad authority to veto all or parts of appropriations, except, of course, appropriations to the public schools and for payment of the public debt."

However, that case dealt with a governor's power to make midyear spending cuts to balance the budget. Since an entire education appropriations bill has never before been vetoed in Missouri, the governor's authority to do so has never been challenged in court.

David Cosgrove, Holden's chief counsel, dismissed the language in the 1992 case as a superfluous aside to the main ruling, which isn't germane to the present situation. He also said Hanaway's constitutional interpretation of the line-item veto provision is flawed.

"The drafters of the constitution, if they wanted to prohibit a general veto, could have said there will be no veto relative to public schools," Cosgrove said.

Under the Republican interpretation, Cosgrove said, if lawmakers attempted to dismantle public education by appropriating $1 to DESE, the governor would be powerless to veto the bill.

The governor's intent is also key, Cosgrove said, since by vetoing the whole bill his ultimate goal is to increase education spending rather than reduce it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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