The budget battles between Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and the Republican-dominated General Assembly may come to a head again at the polls in November.
A GOP-backed constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot that, if approved by voters, would rein in some of the governor’s budget authority.
Supporters paint it as a needed check on the executive branch’s power. But to its critics, the change could tilt power away from the governor and toward the legislature.
“This measure sounds good to Republicans now,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri. “If it passes, they may come to regret it when circumstances change.”
The General Assembly has the constitutional duty to craft the state’s budget. The governor has the ability to veto specific spending items.
But the constitution also gives governors the authority to withhold spending if state revenue falls short. The governor can restore the money if the financial situation improves, and lawmakers have no authority to override the withholding of funds.
Amendment 10 would change that, giving lawmakers the opportunity to override the governor’s withholding decision with a two-thirds majority vote.
Proponents point to last year’s battle over an $800 million tax cut proposal.
Nixon vetoed the tax bill, then withheld $400 million in funding for education, building projects and other government services out of concern that legislators might override the veto.
When the override effort failed, he eventually released all the money. Republicans cried foul.
“This is about checks and balances,” said Rep. Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican. “We’ve seen a pattern of this governor abusing his constitutional authority, and we’re trying to create some legislative oversight.”
Nixon has panned the amendment, arguing that his budget powers are necessary tools that have been wielded by Republican and Democrat governors to maintain fiscal discipline.
Governors use the withholding authority to “balance the state budget and prevent government from spending beyond its means,” said Scott Holste, Nixon’s press secretary. “The governor has made clear that amending the constitution to weaken Missouri’s strong safeguards against overspending by the legislature is fiscally irresponsible.”