HJR 72, sponsored by State Representative Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) would allow the General Assembly to reconsider spending withholding actions by a governor, but specifically provides that a governor shall not reduce appropriations for principal and interest payments on the public debt. The resolution would allow voters to decide whether the General Assembly could reconsider a governor’s action, restoring the checks and balances that should be present in the budget process. The resolution would require that any variation in the rate of spending or amounts withheld from the amount appropriated by the legislature would be returned to the legislature for potential action, similar to amounts vetoed in the current budget process. The Missouri House gave final approval to the measure Thursday by a vote of 109-42.
In recent years, Missouri governors have increasingly withheld budget appropriations for a variety of state reasons. Many of the decisions to withhold funding at the very least short circuit the General Assembly’s ability to appropriate money through the budget process. At the worst, the withholdings smack strongly of politics.
“For years now, we have had a steady erosion of the legislature’s power to decide how the taxpayers of this state have their money spent,” said Rep. Richardson during his closing remarks prior to the resolution’s final passage. “I believe HJR 72 is a responsible way to do that.”
Governors and their budget directors have been able to use the state constitution’s vague language on the governor’s discretion to control state spending as an excuse to hold back funds from one program or department as they see fit.
“AIM believes the current system allowing a governor broad latitude in withholding appropriated expenditures lends the process to allegations of withholding for political purposes,” McCarty told a committee hearing this week. “We believe the authority granted to a governor to withhold appropriations is to be used strictly for financial reasons to ensure the Missouri budget is balanced.”
Associated Industries of Missouri was the ONLY supporter of this legislation in the House committee hearing.
The resolution now heads for the State Senate. Since HJR 72 seeks to make a change to the state constitution, if it passes the Senate, the resolution would then go to a vote of the people this coming November.