Missouri Overrides Vetoes; Questions Raised On Funds

By John Celock

The Republican-controlled Missouri state Legislature is moving forward with overriding $50 million in budget vetoes made by Gov. Jay Nixon (D), while Democrat argue that the state cannot afford the social programs.

The Republican state House has moved steadily to override vetoes from Nixon on a series of social programs on Wednesday, saying that they are looking to help people throughout the state. Democrats and Nixon have argued that the state’s declining revenues from tax cuts will not allow them to afford the programs and that the Legislature cannot override individual vetoes of budget lines. Nixon made the vetoes citing the lack of funds.

Among the vetoes overridden during the state House debate are to allow for funding for defibrillators at lakes, prisoner reentry programs, autism treatment, brain injuries, newborn screening and dental services for rural children. The GOP-controlled state Senate is also moving ahead with overriding Nixon and restoring the funds. Nixon would have the option of potentially delaying the awarding of the money, citing that the state would be in violation of the state constitution, which mandates a balanced budget.

Democrats registered their objections to the overrides early on, saying that the Legislature would be in violation of the state constitution by making the overrides, saying that it would not allow the budget to be balanced. Democrats claimed that the overrides would allow for lawmakers to set the precedent of overriding other parts of the constitution next. Republicans objected to this, saying that overrides had occurred in the past of individual budget line vetoes.

The override session allowed Republicans in one of the country’s most conservative state Legislatures to embrace popular social issues. Missouri Republicans control enough seats in both the House and Senate to override any veto Nixon makes.

In the area of autism, the House voted to restore over $1 million in funding for a new autism treatment center at Washington University in St. Louis. Republicans argued that the program would allow for early treatment of autism in children, which they said would help children later in life.

“This is another disturbing veto. The funds for this autism clinic will help families get the services and prevention for those with autism,” Rep. Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) said in the House debate. “This is another veto that has the potential of taking away very vital support for individuals and families with autism.”

In addition to the Washington University center, lawmakers voted to override a veto of funding for regional autism projects.

House members voted to override a veto for $160,000 in funding for defibrillators on Missouri Water Patrol boats. Lawmakers said the equipment was needed after a group of children at the Lake of the Ozarks had bee electrocuted on a dock and a defibrillator was not immediately available to save their lives.

One lawmaker objected to the fact that Nixon kept funding in for other projects, including the National Governors Association membership and not funding defibrillators at lakes.

“How do you justify taking money away from defibrillators,” the lawmaker said. “When you spend money on national associations, trips and stuff like that. That is unforgivable.”

Another veto override would allow for $2 million for prisoner reentry programs, including rent, mentoring and employment assistance. Advocates said the program would allow those leaving prison to reenter society and not go back to lives of crime.

Prisoner reentry issues has been gaining steam nationally. In New Jersey, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D) has launched programs in his city, placing former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) in charge of the program. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has also worked on the issue.

Democrats noted that while topics addressed by Republicans have been helpful, there is no money to pay for the overrides.

“These 50 budget line item vetoes are simply a political exercise to vilify the governor. The GOP decimated our budget on the last day of regular session with special interest tax cuts and now want to fund programs with money we don’t have,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) told The Celock Report. “Many of us work hard on many of these valuable programs. But I cannot be a responsible legislator and vote to fund programs with make believe dollars.”