More schools join lawsuit challenging governor's authority

Friday, October 3, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Nine more school districts have joined a lawsuit claiming Gov. Bob Holden unconstitutionally withheld $190 million in approved spending for Missouri public schools, while several state officials and agencies have been dropped as defendants.

The litigation was initiated in August by the Liberty, Lee's Summit and Fort Osage districts after Holden ordered a reduction in education spending to help bring the state budget in balance.

Like the original plaintiffs, all of the newcomers are located in the Kansas City area except for the Springfield School District.

Michael Delaney, the Kansas City attorney representing the districts, said he is hopeful more districts from other regions will join since the withholding action financially impacts all Missouri schools. The lawsuit seeks a court-ordered release of the disputed funds.

"This is not an issue that is unique to the Kansas City area," Delaney said.

In an amended petition filed Wednesday in Cole County Circuit Court, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed several of the defendants originally named in the lawsuit. Delaney said that action was taken to streamline the case so it can come to trial more quickly.

"The more defendants there are, the slower the process is," Delaney said.

Holden and commissioner of administration Jacquelyn White are the only remaining defendants. Dropped from the case were State Treasurer Nancy Farmer, state budget director Linda Luebbering, the Missouri State School Board and the Department of Education, along with its boss, Education Commissioner Kent King.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon's office, which is representing Holden and White, is expected to file a motion to dismiss the case by Oct. 10. Judge Richard Callahan has scheduled a hearing on that request for Nov. 5.

The districts claim the Missouri Constitution prevents the governor from reducing education expenditures below the amount approved by the Missouri Legislature.

Holden, a Democrat, has said the Republican-led legislature provided inadequate revenue to cover all authorized spending in the state's overall $19.1 billion budget.

The constitutional section relating to the governor's line-item veto on budget bills says the "governor shall not reduce any appropriation for free public schools."

However, the next provision says the governor "may reduce the expenditures of the state or any of its agencies below their appropriations" if approved spending exceeds available revenue.

The case is Liberty School District, et al, v. Gov. Bob Holden and Commissioner of Administration Jacquelyn White.

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