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Amendment 10 prevents our kids from becoming political footballs

Constitutional Amendment 10 will be on the ballot November 4, 2014.  If voters approve the measure, the people’s elected representatives will have a check and balance over spending decisions that does not exist today.  As the only group that supported this constitutional amendment as it was proposed in the Missouri General Assembly, Associated Industries of Missouri hopes voters understand the importance of this bill in bringing honesty to the political process.

The state budget works like this:

1. Governor proposes a budget and sends to House;

2. House considers, adds to and subtracts from budget and sends to Senate;

3. Senate considers, adds to and subtracts from budget and sends back to House;

4. Differences are worked out and the result is approved in both the House and Senate and the budget is returned to the Governor;

5. The Governor may approve or veto individual spending items. If he/she vetoes the items, they are returned to the House and Senate for reconsideration.

6. If the Governor vetoes a spending item, the House and Senate may override that decision with a two-thirds majority vote;

HOWEVER, current law provides the Governor may withhold the funding for the spending item, even if the legislature overrides the Governor’s veto.  ALSO, current law allows the Governor to claim that revenues are insufficient to support the budget approved by the legislature and he/she can simply withhold funds without a veto.  The people have no recourse in this situation. The Governor simply must believe the revenues are insufficient to fund the budget and there is no check and balance on his or her decision in the matter.

For decades, this authority has worked fairly well.  When budgets were passed that were not affordable because state revenues did not support them, governors simply withheld the appropriate amount of money.  But then governors figured out that withholding money from popular programs, such as education, could wield great political power.  Perhaps a governor would withhold education funding unless the legislature sustained their veto of certain bills, as has been the case in the last two legislative sessions.

Governor Jay Nixon vetoed our 2013 legislation he didn’t like that cut taxes for everyone in Missouri and withheld education funding, saying he would not release the funding if the legislature overrode his veto and enacted the law.  That tactic worked with that bill, HB 253, as lawmakers succumbed to the political pressure and failed to override his veto of that bill.

The legislature came back in 2014 with another bill, SB 509, that also cut taxes using only the growth in state revenues. Governor Nixon answered that the bill contained a flaw that meant there would be no income tax on income over $9,000, creating a $4.8 billion hole in the state budget and declaring education funding would suffer if that happened.  Despite opinions from many that this was not true, including a former Supreme Court justice, the governor maintained this argument through the debate on the override of his veto. Thankfully, the legislature overrode his veto and SB 509 became law.  Shortly thereafter, the Governor’s Department of Revenue issued a bulletin confirming that the top tax rate on income would indeed not be zero, but would be 5.5% (as we had claimed). There would be no $4.8 billion hole in the state budget after all.

Political arguments happen all the time – they are part of the process. But funding for our children’s education should not be held hostage by politicians to make a political point or to get their way politically.  Amendment 10 would stop that behavior by allowing the legislature to review a decision to withhold funding. If there is truly a shortage of revenue, the legislature would not override the decision to withhold the spending.  But if the decision is simply a political one, that too will be exposed and people will be better informed. If a governor knows their decision to withhold money from education will be subject to review, they may think twice before withholding that crucial funding.

Constitutional Amendment 10 provides citizens with a way to prevent our children’s education funding and other important funding from being held hostage by a governor of either party that is trying to make a political point or force the legislature to sustain a veto or pass legislation he or she wants passed.  That’s not how this power was intended to be used and Amendment 10 puts an end to it.  

We hope this helps explain the purpose behind Constitutional Amendment 10.  If you are still undecided, the fact that the St. Louis Post Dispatch Editorial Board is opposed to it should help you make your decision.  If you want to read an article prepared by people with an obvious lack of understanding of how the process works, you may read the Post’s editorial here.

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