Our Opinion: State services, employees hit in crossfire of spite-based budgeting

News Tribune editorial

Spite and retaliation have become the currency of Missouri governing in the waning days of the legislative session.

Clout always has played an integral role in government with three branches and two major political parties.

But an escalating controversy — that wasn’t even an issue when the session began in January — has prompted spite-based budgeting from the Republican-controlled Legislature and threats of retaliation from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

The issue flared after a civil lawsuit in the Bootheel challenged the Department of Revenue’s collection of personal information as part of its driver’s license permitting process.

A legislative investigation spread to other agencies and, eventually, uncovered that the state had supplied information, including a list of people permitted to carry concealed weapons, to a federal government fraud investigation unit.

Some Republican lawmakers became incensed and accused the Democratic administration of violating a 2009 law directing the state not to comply with the 2005 federal Real ID mandate.

In the state budget finalized before Friday’s deadline and advanced to Nixon, lawmakers funded the Revenue agency for only eight months, not the typical 12 months.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, characterized the cut as “pretty reasonable” for an agency that has defied legislative requests.

In retaliation, Nixon called the partial funding “irresponsible” and “unprecedented.” He said he had “no choice” but to lay off state workers, blaming the Legislature for his action.

Schaefer countered by calling the governor’s action “absurd.” He added: “It would be unfortunate that the governor would play games with people’s lives like that.”

Power plays have been part and parcel of politics throughout history.

In this instance, however, the power struggle has descended to spiteful pettiness, with Missouri residents and employees caught in the crossfire.

If the governor and lawmakers want to engage in a face-off, let them do so without sacrificing the livelihoods of state workers and services to Missouri residents.

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