WHAT OTHERS SAY: A practical, expansive and correct court ruling

Monday, August 6, 2012 | 4:27 p.m. CDT

A question posed in this forum has been rendered moot by a Missouri Supreme Court ruling.

The court this week determined the state auditor is empowered by the constitution to write fiscal notes for ballot issues.

When the court heard arguments on the issue in June, we wrote: “If the auditor is not authorized by the constitution to create fiscal notes, who is?”

Two lower court judges in Cole County’s 19th Judicial Circuit split on the issue in rulings on separate cases.

Judge Jon Beetem ruled the auditor is not authorized by the constitution to write fiscal notes. He cited a provision that limits the auditor’s duties.

In another case, Judge Dan Green issued a contrasting decision. He wrote: "The assignment of the duty of preparing fiscal notes to the auditor is well within the constitutional authority of the Legislature."

The Missouri Constitution both prescribes and proscribes the duties of the auditor. Regarding limitations, the language cited by Beetem reads: “No duty shall be imposed on him (the auditor) by law which is not related to the supervising and auditing of the receipt and expenditure of public funds.” The Supreme Court’s interpretation of preparing fiscal notes is within the scope of those duties because ballot issues affect state income and expense. The determination is practical. Court rulings, however, must be based on legality, not practicality. The ruling may be an expansive interpretation of the auditor’s specified constitutional duties, but it is neither incorrect nor — dare we say — activist.

Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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