State Lawmakers, Budget Director Clash Over Governor's Withholding of Funds

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JEFFERSON CITY - State lawmakers grilled budget director Linda Luebbering Wednesday about Gov. Nixon's decision to withhold funding from the state's 2012 budget to pay for disaster relief.

Members of the House Interim Committee on Budget Transparency said Nixon is authorized to withhold state funding only in order to prevent budget shortfalls

Nixon announced in June that he would withhold $127 million from the Fiscal Year 2012 budget to cover the costs of cleaning up from this summer's floods and the Joplin tornado. The budget already had $527 million in the so-called Rainy Day fund, which is set aside each year for cleaning up after disasters.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, likened Gov. Nixon's actions to "driving a balance-of-power truck" through the loophole.

"I believe that next year, the legislature should severely curtail the amount of flexibility the administration has on the budget," he said.

Committee chair Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, questioned Nixon's decision to withhold funding from programs such as education when a dedicated disaster-relief fund already exsisted.

Luebbering disagreed. She said Nixon's goal was to keep the budget balanced while at the same time reassuring storm-ravaged communities that critical funding would come. Luebbering said too little information exists about the amount and types of costs the state is facing to tap into the Rainy Day fund.

Aides to Rep. Silvey said the committee will meet about eight times in the coming months to address shortfalls and other issues with the budget.