Updated 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013
In a spirit of Christmas Eve, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon today announced that he was releasing about $40.1 million in withheld budget allocations for a variety of projects – most notably $18 million for repairs and improvements to the state Capitol building and $5 million for projects at Missouri state parks.
Another $38 million, sought by legislative leaders to buy a new office building, remains withheld.
The withholdings were made early this fiscal year. Nixon's budget staff said that the governor wanted to make sure that the state would have the money before allowing it to be spent, since the Missouri constitution requires that the state end each fiscal year with a balanced budget.
“My administration has worked diligently to protect our perfect AAA credit rating and keep our state on a fiscally sustainable path,” Nixon said in a statement. “This sound fiscal management allows me to release these funds that can be put to use in several state programs and make long-term capital improvements.”
But House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, faulted what he called "this governor's extremely heavy-handed abuse of his withholding powers."
Jones emphasized that, in his opinion, there was "absolutely no reason'' for Nixon to withhold the money in the first place.
The money designated for the Capitol would be used to seal and waterproof the south side of the historic building, which the governor said “will improve the overall appearance, structural stability and water shedding capacity of the building.”
Nixon also is releasing $7 million for “state facilities maintenance and repair.”
The General Assembly had allocated the money in the final days of the last session, when legislators learned that FY2013 fiscal year, which ended last June 30, would end with a surplus of several hundred million dollars.
The governor had initially agreed to some items on the legislators’ wish list, although Nixon had sought more for the state parks. The sought-after office building, close to the Capitol, has been coveted by lawmakers for some time, as a way to ease the crowded office conditions in the Capitol.
Jones said he wanted to make clear that Nixon's office had been involved from the beginning in assembling the capital-improvement projects that would be paid for with some of the surplus. "When we originally discussed this appropriation, it was really a 'trifecta' " of the House, Senate and Nixon's staff, Jones said.
But then "the governor back-tracked and broke that agreement," the speaker said.
Nixon put most of the capital-improvement and special spending from the surplus in limbo when the current fiscal year, FY2014, appeared to be less prosperous than some had hoped, with slightly less state income coming in than predicted. As a result, legislators have agreed this month to reduce the projected increase for this fiscal year to 2 percent, from the 3.1 percent used when the FY2014 budget was initially drawn up last session.
The remaining $10.1 million of the withheld money that the governor released today includes:
- $5.8 million that had been “part of a 4 percent restriction in several programs;”
- $562,000 for the Division of Tourism;
- $750,000 for “small business programs under the Missouri Department of Economic Development”;
- $500,000 for dental programs at rural health clinics;
- $200,000 for the Elks Mobile Dental program to provide dental services to children and adults with disabilities;
- $50,000 for the Missouri Department of Transportation.