Missouri House leader: Spend, don't save federal money

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 | 11:16 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — State House Speaker Ron Richard said Monday that Missouri should spend — not save — a more than $200 million influx from the federal government under an extension of part of the economic stimulus act.

Richard has said the Republican-led House will attempt Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill creating a special fund for the federal money.

But Richard acknowledged Monday that the special fund itself is not his primary concern. The main purpose of the override attempt is to draw attention to his belief that the House has been left out of discussions about how to use the federal money, Richard said.

A two-thirds majority of each the House and Senate is needed for a veto override, meaning House Republicans would need the votes of almost two dozen Democrats. Republicans already control two thirds of the Senate seats.

Incoming House Democratic leader Rep. Mike Talboy called the veto override vote "an attempt to throw a dagger at the governor" and said he expects most Democrats will oppose it.

"All it looks like to me is political games in the fourth quarter of the political season," said Talboy, of Kansas City.

Missouri expects to receive $209 million in enhanced Medicaid payments from Jan. 1 through June 30 as part of a six-month extension approved this summer by Congress of a provision originally included in the 2009 federal stimulus act.

Rather than spending that money immediately, Nixon's administration plans to place it in a fund created to receive previous stimulus-act payments and save it for use in Missouri's 2012 budget. It would be up to lawmakers next year to decide how to spend that money.

"Our intent is to make sure it's not used to balance the budget — to make sure it's meant to go where it's supposed to go and to have clarity and transparency," Richard, R-Joplin, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The House speaker suggested the money could be spent this year to temporarily boost Medicaid payments to doctors and other medical providers, or could go toward a new state mental hospital in Fulton.

The vetoed legislation would create a new state fund to hold the latest round of federal money. It also would give a legislative committee greater oversight over the use of any federal Race to the Top education grants, which Missouri has not received.

In his veto message, Nixon said the new fund was unnecessary because lawmakers in 2009 already created a fund for stimulus-act money. He said the expanded duties of the legislative committee could infringe on the constitutional powers of the executive branch.

Richard dismissed Nixon's constitutional concerns as something the courts could decide.

He acknowledged the federal money could be spent from an existing fund just as easily as from a new fund, but he added: "The argument is not the funds. My argument to my members is we should have the ability to have a conversation about how money from the federal government is sent to the people of Missouri."

Senate Majority Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said Monday that senators also would consider a veto override attempt, if it first clears the House.

"We think it's crazy with this kind of money to confuse where your money's coming from and to commingle the money" with previous stimulus-act payments, Engler said.


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