JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Although the Missouri Republican Party's platform calls for making approved state spending for public schools immune from midyear cuts by the governor, the party doesn't intend to pursue a constitutional change to strip future governors of the authority to do so.
The first plank listed in the GOP platform is a direct shot at Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, who withheld about $200 million in spending the Republican-led Missouri Legislature approved for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the fiscal year ending June 30.
When he ordered the reduction last July, Holden said the action was needed to keep the overall state budget in balance. He eventually restored the funding after state revenue collections exceeded his earlier estimates. A $89.6 million DESE withholding he made late in the 2003 fiscal year was never restored.
The Republican platform, which delegates to the party's state convention in Springfield approved Saturday, says the party supports "Efforts to put an immediate end to the policy of withholding appropriated funds from public schools."
However, the Missouri Constitution empowers a governor to reduce the expenditures of any state agency, including DESE, below levels set by the legislature when the budget is deemed out of balance. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the governor's authority last year in a case brought by public school districts that claimed the constitution made education spending off limits for midyear cuts.
Rather than proposing a constitutional amendment to ensure education appropriations are never again targeted, Thor Hearne, a St. Louis lawyer who chaired the Republican platform committee, said the party's position simply is that no governor should take away money from education, even though the option is available.
"We are very clearly opposed to the highly partisan method by which Holden attempted to manipulate the process to the detriment of education," Hearne said.
For two years, Holden clashed with Republican lawmakers over education spending. The legislature repeatedly rebuffed the governor's request for higher taxes to maintain and improve funding for public schools.
Election-year rhetoricMissouri Democratic Party spokesman Jim Gardner said the GOP plank is merely election-year rhetoric.
"If they were truly concerned about this issue, they would take the next step and offer a solution," Gardner said. "Obviously, a constitutional amendment is the only way to do that."
For the current fiscal year, DESE is slated to receive 36.3 percent of the total $6.79 billion general revenue appropriation, making it one of the few agencies where a governor can find significant savings to address a revenue shortfall once a fiscal year has started.
State Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca said Secretary of State Matt Blunt, the presumed GOP gubernatorial nominee this year, has pledged never to withhold from the education budget if elected governor.