Republicans lodged a familiar complaint Wednesday about the niches of the state budget Gov. Jay Nixon taps for executive branch expenses.
They have regularly griped in recent years that he takes funds from various state agencies to pay for costs associated with his office. On Wednesday, they pointed to $390,000 in dues for the National Governors Association over the past three years from the budget of the Department of Social Services.
More than half of that money has come from the department’s administration of the Children’s Division, which oversees foster care. The practice was first reportedin 2012 in a report by the state auditor
GOP leaders, who said they hadn’t seen the auditor’s 2012 report, denounced the payments as improper.
“There’s nothing wrong with the National Governors Association,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican. “But if (the governor) wants to spend money on that, it should come from a delineated line item in his budget.”
Nixon, a Democrat, called the concerns a “diversionary stunt” in the final days of the legislative session, which ends Friday.
“I urge these legislators to set aside these desperate distractions,” Nixon said in a statement, “and use the time they have left in the session to work on making a real difference for the Missourians we serve.”
Brian Kinkade, director of the Department of Social Services, said his department gets the lion’s share of its funding from the federal government. The National Governors Association advocates for the state at the federal level, he said, so the funding isn’t improper.
The money in question came out of the administrative office budgets, which does not affect direct services, Kinkade said. The money in question otherwise would have gone unspent, he said.
“I need to be very clear,” he said. “This in no way jeopardized direct services or field service for our child welfare program.”
The $26 billion state budget approved by lawmakers last week included$5.1 million in additional funds for the state’s Children’s Division
to attempt to address issues of overwhelming caseloads and high staff turnover.
That funding bump was cited Wednesday by House Republicans as part of the reason for their frustration with the governor.
“That’s disturbing,” said Rep. Sue Allen, a St. Louis County Republican. “Maybe it’s not a big deal to some people, but it is to me.”
The Children’s Division has been struggling for years, Allen said. Given that, she said, its funding shouldn’t go toward membership dues to a national organization.
The2012 audit of the governor’s office
found that the governor significantly underreported the true costs of operating his office by shifting $1.7 million of staff, travel and office costs to other agencies over the course of three years. For example, Nixon’s office billed a dozen agencies a total of $546,000 over that time to cover his flights on state airplanes.
The governor’s office defended its actions at the time by noting Nixon has a role in administering programs or policies in various state agencies.