Governor to veto education again

Thursday, June 19, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Insisting the Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature still hasn't adequately funded education, Gov. Bob Holden said Wednesday he again would veto the bills that provide state funding to local schools and public colleges and universities.

Holden, a Democrat, will ask lawmakers to pass temporary spending measures next week to keep education money flowing through September at levels lawmakers already have endorsed. By then, he hopes they will be more inclined to approve a tax increase to boost state revenue.

The governor said he will accept revised versions of two other spending bills that fund the departments of mental health, health and senior services and social services.

GOP leaders immediately decried the impending vetoes as a further waste of time that pushes the state closer to a partial government shutdown.

The legislature has been meeting in a special session since June 2 to redo four budget bills Holden vetoed that accounted for nearly two-thirds of all state spending for the fiscal year starting July 1. Using new federal money, they boosted appropriations by nearly $200 million over the original bills, including $86.5 million more for education.

However, Holden said the budget remains roughly $240 million out of balance, an assertion Republicans reject.

"They can continue to cloud this issue and deny the numbers. They can attempt to hide the truth from the public," Holden said. "But as governor of this state, I have to deal with reality. And the reality is they have not balanced the budget."

Holden said he will make withholdings on the first day of the fiscal year to cover the supposed shortfall. The breakdown of the withholdings will be $190 million from elementary and secondary education, $30 million from higher education and $30 million from other state agencies.

Overall, the legislature's $19.1 billion state operating budget is just 1 percent lower than what Holden proposed in January in terms of total spending, a difference of less than $197.4 million.

Even before Holden made his announcement, House Republicans had filed new budget bills identical to those approved Tuesday. They plan to repass those next week.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, said the majority has no intention of introducing a temporary spending measure, at least for now.

"I think it's highly unlikely we would do that, but I'm not saying no way, never," Hanaway said.

House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell branded the idea of a temporary spending bill as "foolish and stupid" and a precedent that would make the Missouri budgeting process more like that at the federal level, where budget deadlines are routinely missed.

"I don't know why Congress does it, and the state of Missouri should not follow the lunacy that occurs in Washington, D.C.," Crowell said. "It's a horrible precedent. You've just made a full-time legislature and that is not what the founding fathers of our state and the architects of our constitution envisioned."

No authority

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, doesn't believe lawmakers have the authority to pass a temporary spending bill.

"Not only is it unworkable, we feel it is unconstitutional as well," Kinder said.

The Missouri Constitution says the "General Assembly shall make appropriations for one or two fiscal years." However, courts haven't interpreted the exact meaning of that phrase.

Holden characterized his plan as an "emergency appropriation," which the constitution empowers him to request, and said it is no different than the supplemental spending bills lawmakers approve annually to boost midyear spending, except that this would come on the front end of the budget year.

Since the special session hasn't adjourned, lawmakers could seek to override Holden's vetoes. That option wasn't available for the first veto round, which took place after the regular legislative session ended.

The Senate approved the higher education spending bill by more than a veto-proof two-thirds majority and fell one vote short on the elementary and secondary education measure. However, three Republican senators missed that vote and could provide the needed support in an override attempt.

Neither measure came close to winning a two-thirds majority in the House, but Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said it's possible that could change.

"If he keeps making people mad on both sides over the way he's handling it, we might be able to get an override," Jetton said.

Holden's special session call also asked for consideration of putting a tax increase before voters and other revenue-raising efforts. Republican leaders all but ignored such proposals.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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