Beetem gets grammar lesson in court debate over governor’s budget power

Judge Jon Beetem studies a chart before him as he listens to Chip Robertson argue his legal position on the behalf of Gov. Jay Nixon.

Judge Jon Beetem studies a chart before him as he listens to Chip Robertson argue his legal position on the behalf of Gov. Jay Nixon. Photo by Julie Smith.

How important is a comma?

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Lawyers for Gov. Jay Nixon told Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem Monday morning that one comma — separating two parts of the sentence defining the governor’s power to manage the state budget after it’s signed into law — means the clauses on either side of the comma are independent of each other, giving the governor “two different powers.”

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward D. “Chip” Robertson was one of three former judges representing the Democratic governor Monday in a lawsuit filed in late August by State Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican.

That lawsuit accuses Nixon of violating the state Constitution last June 10, when he announced about $170 million in budget withholdings for the 2011-12 state business year that didn’t begin until July 1.

The main issue, Robertson told Beetem during an hour-long hearing, is the constitutional sentence that defines the governor’s power to control the rate of, and reduce, the state’s expenditures after he’s signed the budget that lawmakers approved.

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