Smart Decision 2014: Amendment 10 could change state politics
JEFFERSON CITY - Next Tuesday voters will decide whether or not to change the system of checks and balances in state government.
Amendment 10, would put more powers in the hands of state lawmakers by putting another check on Governor Jay Nixon. The amendment would allow lawmakers to release funds which Nixon freezes in the name of balancing the budget.
If passed, lawmakers would be able to override the budget freezes in a similar process to overriding a veto. Under the amendment, lawmakers would need a two-thirds vote to override the governor on frozen funds. Republicans currently hold super majorities in both houses, and have overridden the governor a record number of times in the last two years.
The Missouri constitution requires the governor to be responsible for balancing the budget and the governor's office said the amendment would make the task much more difficult.
In a statement to KOMU 8 News, the governor's office stated: "This authority to control spending is vital to keeping the state's fiscal house in order and is routinely cited by the ratings agencies in reaffirming Missouri's AAA credit rating. The governor has made clear that amending the constitution to weaken Missouri's strong safeguards against overspending by the legislature would be fiscally irresponsible."
The governor's office said the amendment is a power grab by the Missouri Legislature, saying the amendment "appears to be another attempt by the legislature to grow government beyond its means."
Proponents of the amendment disagree, saying it will help check a governor who froze millions in funding from the state budget throughout his tenure.
In 2013, Nixon initially froze about $400 million in the state budget, including funds to programs like education and social services. Nixon eventually released the funds, but not until lawmakers made concessions in last year's veto session.
This year, the governor vetoed more than $700 million from the state budget. While some of those vetoes were overridden, others were not because, according to some lawmakers, they believed Nixon would withhold the funds anyway. Some lawmakers say Nixon freezes funds as leverage, to keep some of the bigger budget vetoes from being overturned. This veto session most of the big budget bills did not get overridden and since then, Nixon has slowly released more of the frozen funds.
Opponents of the amendment say it is shortsighted.
Kip Kendrick, who will be taking over the seat of Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) in January, said the amendment could have "the longest-term impact" of any of the amendments on the November's ballot.
Some opponents believe the amendment stems from the poor relationship between the governor and lawmakers. However, Kendrick said it is important to remember the legislation will go beyond Nixon's tenure.
Some say this amendment is a solution for lawmakers to eliminate some of the leverage Nixon holds over them. Kendrick cautioned the effects of the amendment would hamper future governors from achieving a balanced budget.
The amendment also attracted the attention of Standard & Poor, when it was reporting on Missouri's credit rating, stating "Although the governor will still be required to balance the budget during the year, we believe this amendment could reduce the flexibility to make changes to balance the budget and make the process more difficult. We believe this amendment could potentially weaken the state's strong governmental framework to make mid-year budget adjustments, which in our view, could potentially lower the rating to a level in line with our indicative rating under our state scoring methodology."
Opponents say another problem with the amendment is it's vague wording. On your November ballot the amendment's wording will be:
"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to require the governor to pay the public debt, to prohibit the governor from relying on revenue from legislation not yet passed when proposing a budget, and to provide a legislative check on the governor's decisions to restrict funding for education and other state services?
State governmental entities expect no direct costs or savings. Local governmental entities expect an unknown fiscal impact."
Kendrick said the wording is "vary vague" and does not properly let people know the implications of the amendment.
Proponents of the amendment say it will prevent the governor from using public funds to things like education and social services as political footballs.
Voters will decide the passage of the amendment on November 4.