JEFFERSON CITY – A Missouri state representative is holding out hope that the governor will veto a spending plan that he says may go against the state constitution and leaves a $35 million hole in next year’s budget.
“The decision is now in the hands of the governor, who I believe understands that my feelings will not be hurt if he vetoes the bill,” Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Shell Knob who also serves as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, told the St. Louis Record.
At issue, Fitzpatrick said, is a move by the Senate after the bill was passed by the House to reinstate $35 million that had been trimmed from a budget item supplying funds for low-income nursing home care.
“The House's plan, or more specifically my plan, was to repeal the renters portion of the property tax credit, and take the savings from that legislation and deposit it into the senior services protection fund so that those appropriations would have funding behind them," Fitzpatrick said. "The total savings would have been about $56.3 million.”
Instead, he said, the Senate eliminated that plan and “siphoned” $35.4 million from the general revenue fund, placing it into the Senior Services Protection Fund.
“This basically just increased the spending of general revenue that the House and Senate agreed to by $35.4 million,” he said. “The ramifications of the action is that the state will have $35.4 million less in available general revenue with which to balance the state's budget in FY 2018.”
Fitzpatrick said the move was more than an accounting trick; it may have violated the state’s Constitution, specifically, Article III, Section 36.
“People think of the budget as spending, but the budget also includes transfer authority from funds to other funds,” he said. “Any movement of money between funds has to be entered against an appropriation number in the state's accounting system.”
He said that wasn’t done, and that the Senate’s move sets a “dangerous precedent.”
“I think it would be a tough case to make that a bill that started out as a tax credit reform bill, which then had every word removed and replaced and turned into a general revenue siphoning bill, would not be in violation of the original purpose clause of the Missouri Constitution,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said he considered not introducing the bill but decided legislators had a right to consider it. He said he publicly expressed his reservations at the time, and his hope now is that Gov. Eric Greitens will veto it.
“(Allowing the bill to be voted on) was the hardest decision I have had to make in my public service because I vehemently disagree with the bill,” he said.