House Budget Chairman: audit ‘confirms’ legislative criticism of former governor’s use of taxpayer money

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.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

Missouri House proposes giving Missourians choice of whether to get Real ID-compliant licenses

The state House has proposed a bill that would allow Missourians to choose whether to get a state ID that complies with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, so they can use it to do things like enter military bases and board planes.

Representative Kevin Corlew said House Bill 151 will give Missourians a  choice on whether to get a state-issued ID that complies with the federal Real ID Act of 2005.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kevin Corlew said House Bill 151 will give Missourians a choice on whether to get a state-issued ID that complies with the federal Real ID Act of 2005. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 151 is sponsored by Representative Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City), who called it a compromise, allowing Missourians to keep non-compliant IDs if they wish.  His Republican caucus was divided over the legislation, though, with some saying the Real ID Act threatens individuals’ privacy and personal information.

The Act was passed as part of the federal government’s response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.  In 2009 the Missouri legislature and then-Governor Jay Nixon (D), citing privacy concerns, adopted a law barring the state from issuing compliant IDs.  After January 2018, however, those without non-compliant IDs will not be able to get through airport security, and some federal facilities already enforce such a restriction.

It is that deadline that prompted Corlew’s legislation.

“We need to allow our citizens to choose a Real ID-compliant license so that they’ll be able to get on an airplane to fly across the United States or to fly to another state without having to go to the expense and time and burden of getting a passport, or passport card, or producing additional identification,” said Corlew.  “We need to be able to do that so that our businesses who service our military basis, also our family members who have military families throughout the country, that they can go and visit their loved ones, to see their graduations, to be a part of those ceremonies.”

Representative Steve Lynch’s (R-Waynesville) district includes Fort Leonard Wood, which quit accepting non-compliant IDs last year.  He said he has seen, as much as anyone in the House, how the issue is impacting Missourians.

“Everywhere I go, every weekend, I run across people that stop me and tell me we need to fix this issue.  People are angry.  They are frustrated,” said Lynch.

Opponents of the bill include Representative Robert Ross (R-Yukon), who called the choice proponents say the bill presents a “total joke.”

Representative Robert Ross was one of 35 Republicans that voted against the Real ID bill.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross was one of 35 Republicans that voted against the Real ID bill. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ross said the state is being “coerced” to adopt Real ID compliance by being told, “Your citizens are not going to be able to fly, they’re not going to be able to step onto a nuclear facility, we’re not going to let you into a military installation – which is completely false too.  If you’ve got a Missouri ID and a social security card, birth certificate, any other piece of identification, you can go in.”

Representative Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville) said he is concerned the personal documents and information used to get a compliant ID will land in a government database.

“Everybody may think that this is a black helicopter mentality, but I do not think that this sort of information on a database, especially when it becomes completely nationwide, in the hands of a government, will ever be used for good,” said Brattin.

Others, like Representative Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), said voting against HB 151 would be denying constituents the ability to get a state-issued ID they can use to exercise their rights.

“I would suggest this:  If you look up and you see a ceiling, vote ‘Yes.’  If you look up and you see what might be the bottom of an alien spacecraft that’s coming down, and will beam us up to probe us, then vote, ‘No,’” said Engler.

The bill was passed with bipartisan support, 99-40, and now goes to the state Senate.

House budget committee warned of impending fiscal challenges

The Missouri House Budget Committee was given a wake-up call in its first hearing.  First-year chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) explained to its members the challenges they will face in crafting the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Fitzpatrick has said that budget could need to be trimmed by $500-million.    Former Governor Jay Nixon (D) already restricted $201-million from the current budget, and Governor Eric Greitens (R) is expected to make further restrictions in it.  Fitzpatrick said the items for which funding in the current budget is blocked likely won’t be appropriated in the Fiscal Year 2018 plan.

Fitzpatrick said some are describing the current budget situation as the worst since 1981.

In explaining how the state got here, Fitzpatrick said it began with a June marked by a drop in state revenue collections coupled with increased tax refunds to Missourians.

“We literally went from tracking at 3.2% growth for fiscal year 2016 on June 15 to being at .9% at June 30,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I mean that’s a $200-million swing comparing one year to the next, in two weeks.”

Fitzpatrick said that is combined with continuing growth in Medicaid and costs in the Department of Corrections, including a growing likelihood that Missouri will need a new prison.  He said those and other factors lead him to believe Missouri’s problem is with growing expenses more than it is with a lack of revenue.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve had, my first year we grew ten percent.  The second year … we contracted one percent.  The third year we grew almost nine percent and then this last year we grew one percent.  If you average that across the four years that’s not horrible revenue growth,” said Fitzpatrick.  “But the mandatories – the things that are in statute that people are eligible for like Medicaid have grown faster and that’s the challenge.”

The message, then, to members of the legislature – especially those on the budget committee – has been that there will be very little if any new spending in the Fiscal Year ’18 budget.

Another challenge is that the legislature will be starting the budget process differently than it has in recent years, in large part because Governor Greitens will not deliver his proposed spending plan as part of his State of the State Address next week.  Unlike recent history, when governors have delivered their budget proposals with that address, Greitens’ plan will be released closer to February 1.

Fitzpatrick believes the fact that Greitens is building his administration from scratch combined with the gravity and complexity of the budget situation is behind the delay.

House and Senate budget makers base their proposed spending plans on that of the governor.  Fitzpatrick said the delay could cause the House to change how it does some things, but he remains confident the legislature will pass a balanced budget by the Constitutional deadline of May 5.

“If we have to mess with our hearing schedule a little bit, start a little bit before [Greitens’] budget release on some of these departments that have fewer decision items and some of the ones that are commission-appointed directors and so forth, then we may have to do that.  I’m going to try not to do that but we’ll do whatever we have to do.”

The House’s appropriations subcommittees will begin holding hearings next week.