Schweich sharply critical of budget withholdings for disasters
Updated with comments from Schweich, statement from Nixon.
Missouri state auditor Tom Schweich has released a report that is sharply critical of Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to withhold $172 million from the current budget to help the state cope with a series of natural disasters.
Nixon announced the withholdings in June 2011, before the start of the current fiscal year. Public colleges and universities took the biggest hit. About $1.2 million has been released.
The audit released today says Nixon's actions "do not appear to comply with constitutional provisions." Withholdings are supposed to be made only if actual revenue is coming in lower than expected, the report says, not to fund unanticipated expenses.
"Your actions are troubling because the legislative branch of government was not provided appropriate checks and balances, and could result in the Governor basically rewriting the budget without recourse by the General Assembly. ... As noted above, my office does not question the need for the swift actions taken by us, as the Governor, to address the unprecedented natural disasters faced by citizens of the state. However, the method you used to make FY 2012 withholdings does not appear to comply with constitutional provisions.
Schweich's report also says it's impossible to determine if the $172 million that Nixon withheld is appropriate because the governor's administration did not document how they calculated the amount.
"We would have expected spreadsheets, estimates, projections, comparative scenarios of possible revenue," Schweich said. "We would have expected the typical things any auditor would expect to show why you decided to withhold so much money from so many programs that create jobs and educate our children, and we were quite frankly a little bit startled that there was literally not a single piece of paper provided to us to explain the $170 million."
Budget director Linda Luebbering told a state panel on Tuesday that the state doesn't have enough information yet to make accurate assessments.
The governor's office issued the following statement:
"Now, more than ever, Missourians expect and deserve fiscal responsibility from their government. That’s why, from day one and in every fiscal year since taking office, Gov. Nixon has made the tough decisions necessary to balance the state's budget and maintain Missouri’s AAA credit rating. The Governor has the constitutional responsibility and authority to cut spending to balance the budget, a power used by Governors over the years and consistently upheld by the courts. The auditor’s letter is wrong. Gov. Nixon will continue to ensure that Missouri will meet its obligations to help communities recover and rebuild in the wake of the many natural disasters this year, including the devastating tornado that hit Joplin. The Governor will continue to fulfill his responsibility to balance the state budget, fund necessary services and help our communities recover from these disasters."