Tom Schweich responds to St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 | 10:00 p.m. CDT; updated 10:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri state auditor Tom Schweich called a news conference Tuesday to respond to an editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch questioning the motivations for his lawsuit against Gov. Jay Nixon.

The editorial suggested Schweich was motivated by the $300,000 the governor withheld from the auditor's budget.

The editorial board wrote: "Mr. Schweich wants the court and the public to believe that his budget is more important than helping a city rebuild from one of the worst natural disasters in our state's history."

Schweich responded during the press conference with obvious anger, saying the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has attacked him on prior occasions.

"I will do what's right and if you look at the history of the audits, I don't worry about whether somebody's a Republican or a Democrat," Schweich said. "I just worry about whether they are following the law and good accounting practices. That's what I'll always do and I don't care about the political repercussions."

Schweich's lawsuit was filed against Nixon on Aug. 26, accusing him of violating the state constitution in his decision to pull more than $150 million from the budget for disaster relief payments. 

General revenue makes up $57 million of the disaster relief funding, but the rest of the funding comes from cuts to more than 45 state agencies and programs.

"These withholdings are critical," Schweich said in a press release. "They will result in programs ending and jobs being lost."

Nixon moved money to disaster funding from education, including cuts to community colleges and four-year institutions, Bright Flight and Access Missouri college scholarships, Parents As Teachers and the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. Medicaid, crisis care and children's treatment services as well as grants for Alzheimer's and domestic violence are losing part of their funding. 

Schweich's office said it requested documentation from State Budget Director Linda Luebbering in July that would explain where the reserved funds would be spent, but none has been provided.

Luebbering said the office doesn't know the specific dollar amount needed for the state's disaster relief obligations, and the damage assessments that will determine the amount of money needed are still in progress.

The auditor's lawsuit charges Nixon with violating the constitution by making the decision to withhold funding without legislative approval or the necessary data, such as how much revenue is available for fiscal year 2012, to back up his action. In a letter to the governor on Aug. 19, Schweich expressed concern that the governor's actions violated the law. 

"When the Governor ordered the witholdings in June 2012, FY 2012 had not begun," Schweich stated in a news release. "And therefore, actual revenues could not have been lower than anticipated FY 2012 revenues."

According to Schweich's case filing, "The defendant's budget director and representatives denied that the defendant was acting unconstitutionally but could not cite any other authority for the FY 2012 withholds other than to assert that the defendant had the authority to balance the budget."

During a House Budget Committee hearing, Luebbering said that revenue for fiscal year 2011 had grown 5.9 percent from the previous year.

Article IV Section 27 of the Missouri Constitution states that the governor can only withhold money from other programs if actual revenues are less than the estimate used to determine the budget. However, actual revenues aren't available yet.

In his lawsuit, Schweich noted that the governor had withheld funds from the Republican-controlled legislature and the Republican auditor, but did not withhold funds from his own office or any Democratic statewide-elected official. The case listed a 4.6 percent budget cut for the General Assembly and a 4.5 percent reduction to the auditor but no decrease in Nixon's budget.

"The Governor has no excuse to violate the constitution," Schweich said in the release. "He has the same obligation of transparency and accountability as any other elected official."

The case has been assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem.

Nixon and and Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster have until the end of September to respond. A tentative hearing date has been set for Nov. 28.

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