When Gov. Mike Parson vetoed $12 million in state funding three weeks ago, he left out one detail — his reasoning.
Letters he sent to lawmakers laying out his budget cuts didn’t include any explanations, a fact that drew the ire of the House budget committee this week as it reviewed the vetoes to gauge their impact.
“This omission appears to violate Article IV, Section 26 of the Missouri Constitution which requires the governor to state his ‘reasons for disapproval’ when making line-item vetoes,” state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said in a letter to Parson’s office on Tuesday. He later added: “The reasons behind your decisions may very well be sound, but without the benefit of knowing them, committee members were forced to speculate.”
So on Wednesday, Parson’s legislative director responded by laying out the governor’s reasons for 21 vetoes in a letter to Kendrick.
“The budget decisions detailed below reflect the desire to keep the state workforce under control to be fiscally accountable to taxpayers,” wrote Justin Alferman, who before becoming legislative director last month served as vice chairman of the House budget committee.
The most high-profile of Parson’s vetoes eliminated less than $154,000 out of the state’s $28 billion budget that paid for the Time Critical Diagnosis program, or TCD. The statewide system ensures that critically ill patients suffering from trauma, stroke and certain types of heart attack get to hospitals that can treat them most effectively.
Days after the veto, hospitals that were scheduled to be inspected as a final step toward earning a designation as a certified stroke, heart attack or trauma center received notice from the Department of Health and Senior Services that those inspections were canceled.
Certification is needed because state law requires first responders to transport acute stroke, heart attack and trauma patients to hospitals that have earned the designation, rather than simply to the closest facility.
Facing backlash from hospitals, EMS providers and patient advocates, Parson’s administration downplayed the impact of the veto and insisted it would not disrupt the TCD program.
Alferman wrote Wednesday that the cost of the three full time employees who administered the TCD program “can be absorbed in the existing (Department of Health and Senior Services) budget and we are committed to finding a more stable long-term funding source than operating from general revenue.”
House budget leaders, both Republican and Democrat, panned that idea on Tuesday, saying it would be unconstitutional for the governor to veto a program’s funding and then try to pay for it with money the legislature allocated for another program.
The only way the TCD program can continue this year is if lawmakers override Parson’s veto in September, said House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob.
“We’re fighting over something that we wanted to do, but then they said they didn’t want to do, but now they want to do and we’re telling them they can’t do it because they vetoed it,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s kind of like ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”
Another veto that garnered criticism from lawmakers this week was a $50,000 cut in funding that was supposed to pay for emergency rescue tourniquets for law enforcement agencies across the state.
Alferman said money for tourniquets shouldn’t come from the state coffers.
“We believe that law enforcement officers deserve the appropriate tools to get the job done,” he wrote. “However, we believe that providing law enforcement supplies is an issue best left to local governments.”
Alferman said in his letter that five days before Parson publicly announced his budget reductions, “I spoke directly with House and Senate leadership, which included both budget chairman, offering clear and concise explanations for each of the budget items listed.”