Missouri House fails to override veto of funding bill

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 | 5:35 p.m. CDT; updated 6:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Gov. Jay Nixon speaks during a ceremony honoring the late Gov. Warren Hearnes on Wednesday morning. Later, House lawmakers tried but failed to override Nixon's veto of a bill directing how stimulus funds can be spent.

JEFFERSON CITY — House Republicans failed on Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that would create a special account to track federal money received under an extension of the economic stimulus act.

The House voted 85-68 to override the veto. That fell far short of the 109 votes needed for a two-thirds majority. Just one Democrat joined majority Republicans in backing the veto override attempt.

Many Democrats echoed Nixon's concern that the legislation was both unnecessary and unconstitutional.

At issue is $209 million of enhanced Medicaid payments that Missouri is to get in 2011 under a six-month extension of a provision originally included in the 2009 federal stimulus act.

Rather than immediately spending that money, Nixon's administration plans to place it in a fund created for 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.

The vetoed legislation would have created a separate fund for that money, which Nixon said was unnecessary. He also raised constitutional concerns about a provision in the bill that would have given a legislative committee control over the use of any federal Race to the Top education grants. Missouri failed to win any of those grants.

The legislation passed the House 149-3 in May. But on Wednesday, House Democrats echoed Nixon's concerns in explaining why they no longer supported the bill.

"I am not prepared to vandalize the constitution even a little bit," said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

Democrats pointed to a 1975 ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court. In that case, the court barred state officials from carrying out a law that gave a legislative committee and the state administration commissioner authority to alter appropriations for state departments. The Supreme Court said the law violated the state constitution by delegating appropriation powers to individual lawmakers that are supposed to be exercised only by the entire legislature.

Republicans acknowledged the constitutional concerns but said they were moot because Missouri had failed to win a Race to the Top grant. They focused instead on the section of the legislation creating a new fund for the next round of federal aid to states. They said it would prevent the money from being mingled with previous stimulus-act dollars.

The legislation would create "a clear paper trail about how much the General Assembly appropriates and to where," said House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, who sponsored the bill and the veto override attempt. "It is about accountability and transparency."

The veto override vote occurred in the House because that's where the bill originated. Had it been approved by representatives, senators also would have needed to approve the veto override by a two-thirds vote.

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