First test of Amendment 10 could come quickly

Nixon, Senate disagree over use of withholdings

The TV ads urged Missouri voters to pass Amendment 10 and send Gov. Jay Nixon a message that they were tired of his using budget withholdings as political tools.

Almost 189,000 more people voted "yes" on Amendment 10 on Tuesday than voted against it, out of 1.389 million votes cast.

And, Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer said, lawmakers early next year could consider ordering the governor to release some of the money in the Legislature-passed budget that Nixon has held back from the state's spending authority.

"We're in the process of looking at that right now," Schaefer, R-Columbia, told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon. "The governor's still withholding about $700 million, including from some priority projects - domestic violence shelters and a lot of other things that we specifically overrode him on (in September).

"So we're in the process right now of evaluating the exact impact of Amendment 10 and what that means for the governor."

But Nixon said Wednesday that voters didn't help his job.

"As governor, it's my responsibility to balance the budget and keep government within its means," Nixon told reporters at a news conference in his Capitol office. "We will continue to review (the amendment's) implications.

"We have some serious concerns about its impact on the state's fiscal solvency."

The governor pointed to the current fiscal situation as "a perfect example" of the potential problems he faces in managing the state's money.

"We would need revenue growth of 11 percent - that's more than double what we're on-track to achieve - to fund the budget passed by the Legislature," he explained. "To balance the budget, I've had to make restrictions.

"(With passage of Amendment 10) the Legislature can now override those safeguards, which would put our state - for the first time in history - in a position of obligating more money than we have to spend.

"You can't spend money you don't have - so, it's going to take some good, hard work by everybody for us to maintain that tight fiscal discipline that we have shown in the past."

Schaefer agreed that amending the Missouri Constitution so lawmakers can override a governor's withholding decisions in the same way they override vetoed bills didn't change the Constitution's ultimate requirement that the governor have a balanced budget on June 30 - the last day of the state's business year.

But Schaefer said Nixon's overstating the state government's problem.

"Keep in mind, we balanced the budget on 4.2 percent revenue growth, and we just ended October at 4.3," he explained. "I believe with the trajectory we're on, I think we're going to be fine. ...

"Currently still withholding $700 million - there's no basis for that. The governor can say that we need 11 percent growth (but) there's no basis for that."

The governor said Wednesday his staff still was looking at the impact of the amendment, which he had encouraged Missourians to reject.

"Adding another step or two, to make it more complicated or difficult (to manage money) is not how we got our Triple-A rating," Nixon said, "is not how we've operated - not only me, but folks in the past.

"But, we'll make it work the best we can."