A recent report from Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway (D) found that former governor Jay Nixon (D) overspent on his office and used taxpayer money for personal food and security.
The audit said Nixon delayed paying bills and shifted costs to other government agencies – practices legislative budget makers in both parties often criticized Nixon for.
“It wasn’t a secret that Governor Nixon had taken liberties with the Constitution and the appropriations bills that we had passed,” said Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob). “[Auditor Galloway] basically just confirmed what we’ve already been saying for the last several years.”
The audit found that, for example, flights by Nixon or his staff were paid for by the Department of Economic Development, though not all business on those flights was related to DED and Department officials often weren’t on those flights.
Fitzpatrick, who began serving as budget chairman in August, 2016, said this year’s state spending plan aims to prevent future governors from using similar tactics.
“One of the things that we did this year … was to take the places where the Nixon Administration has been skimming money off the top of appropriations to fund the operation of his office and go ahead and consolidate those into transparent appropriations,” said Fitzpatrick.
Those changes were made under a Republican-controlled legislature even though a Republican – Eric Greitens – is now governor. Fitzpatrick said he wants to see all future governors prevented from similar uses of state dollars.
“If any governor, regardless of their party, goes beyond their constitutional authority to work within the appropriations and the appropriations language that we give them, then I think it’s incumbent on a legislative branch to bring that into check,” said Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick said Governor Greitens’ staff was very “cooperative” in making those changes in the budget, and he hopes the Greitens administration will never get to the point at which the legislature must respond to inappropriate use of state dollars.
Fitzpatrick believes the state Constitution is clear regarding how the governor’s office can and cannot use tax dollars. He thinks previous budget chairmen and legislatures were not stern enough in taking Nixon to task over the practices found in the audit.
“The executive branch has been willing to overstep their boundaries and their constitutional limitations, but the legislative branch has been not really willing to react to that and create consequences that were strong enough to discourage the behavior from continuing into the future,” said Fitzpatrick. “If we see that again, my position is that we should create consequences that would really reduce their desire to go beyond their authority.”
The current state budget became effective July 1.