JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers have overridden Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes of more than $53 million in spending items, a record-setting rebuke delivered by Republicans and Democrats alike that nonetheless carries no guarantee that the money actually will be spent.
Legislators overrode 47 separate line-item budget vetoes during a marathon session that stretched from Wednesday into early Thursday. That accounted for about one-fifth of the total $276 million that Nixon had originally vetoed from the budget that took effect July 1.
Yet the veto overrides don’t automatically mean the money will be spent. That’s because Nixon still could use his budget-balancing authority to freeze spending on the items that were enacted by veto overrides.
The overridden items range from $50,000 for epilepsy education to $5.2 million for asthma education services.
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They include $1.5 million for forensic exams of abused children and $4.1 million for a computer program that helps develop emergency plans at public schools. Lawmakers also overrode Nixon’s veto of $160,000 to equip water patrol boats with defibrillators. They said two children who were fatally electrocuted in 2012 while swimming at the Lake of the Ozarks might have been saved had the responding officer been carrying one of the devices.
Nixon had said the vetoes were necessary because the state cannot afford the new or expanded programs. But lawmakers said the governor had prioritized poorly in deciding which spending items to strike.
House Speaker Tim Jones accused Nixon of making “the most egregious possible vetoes” on budget items by going after programs for “kids, seniors and poor people” in retaliation against lawmakers who overrode his veto of an income tax cut earlier this year.
“You’re seeing here today a super, super, super majority of Democrats and Republicans putting back those dollars,” said Jones, R-Eureka, said as lawmakers were passing the veto overrides.
Nixon has said the income tax cut could eventually drain state revenues, harming funding for public schools and social services. He also vetoed a series of sales tax breaks for particular businesses and industries that lawmakers had passed in May. Most of those vetoes were sustained.
Some Democrats criticized the Republican-led Legislature’s financial management even while supporting the veto overrides on the budget items.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, accused Republicans of forcing Nixon to freeze spending by passing an “ill-conceived and sloppily drafted bunch of ramshackle tax decreases.”
Democratic Sen. Joe Keaveny of St. Louis, who often was the lone “no” vote in his chamber against the veto overrides, said Nixon had to make difficult budget decisions, and “I don’t think now is the time for me to second-guess him.”
The House had voted Wednesday to override 55 line-item budget vetoes, totaling $63 million of spending. But the Senate adjourned early Thursday without voting on several funding items for higher education and the Department of Economic Development.
Republican Senate leaders called it quits after Democrats – displeased that Republicans had employed a rare procedural move to shut off debate and override Nixon’s veto on a separate abortion bill – bogged down the debate.
Legislators approved the line-item-veto overrides even though Attorney General Chris Koster’s office had raised doubts about whether the state constitution allows legislators to consider them during their September session.
Republican legislative leaders said they were merely following the precedent of the past several decades in the way they were handling the budget vetoes.
But Democratic Rep. Jeff Roorda of Barnhart objected: “We are exceeding our authority here. We are trampling on the constitution.”