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Government, Politics & Issues

Judge sets Dec. 16 hearing on Schweich's suit challenging governor's powers

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 7, 2011 - State Auditor Tom Schweich is celebrating that a judge has ruled against dismissing his lawsuit challenging Gov. Jay Nixon's power to withhold and redirect state funds.

Judge John Beetem today denied Nixon's motion to dismiss the case, saying in effect that the "factual dispute" deserves a court hearing.

Such a hearing has been set for Dec. 16 in Cole County Circuit Court.

Schweich, a Republican is contending that Nixon, a Democrat, has overstepped his powers by withholding some budgeted state money and redirecting to Joplin tornado relief. Nixon says he's acting as governors have done for decades. 

Beetem didn't signal that he sided with either official, but the judge's summary does offer a synopsis of each man's basic argument.

Writes the judge:  "Nothwithstanding the imprecision of the language used, fairly read, the auditor is claiming that the governor is 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' by permanently restricting certain appropriations and then spending the resultant savings on diaster relief ... in excess of the appropriation authority granted by the General Assembly."

The governor, the judge continued, "denies that his restrictions are 'permanent' or 'irreversible.' Governor avers that such restrictions are only his way of controlling the rate at which the appropriations are expended. In fact, the governor 'denies that he (or the budget director) have 'transferred' or 'reallocated' any 'money' or 'funds' from one purposes or the other..."

UPDATE: Later, Nixon's staff issued a statement playing down the judge's decision to allow the dispute to be aired in court:

"Today's procedural ruling has no impact on the Governor's responsibility, authority and duty to take the steps necessary to keep the state's fiscal house in order.  These powers are established by the constitution and have been available to and used by governors in the past.  Gov. Nixon will continue to make the tough decisions needed to balance our budget, hold the line on taxes, and meet our responsibilities to help communities recover from natural disasters.  The Governor will continue to exercise the sound fiscal management that has protected the state's spotless Triple-A credit rating, which was reaffirmed yet again in September."

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