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Missouri Republicans, Democrats chart different paths in response to veto-session results

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Missouri General Assembly’s nationally watched veto session has prompted sharply different reactions from state Republicans and Democrats, who both hope to capitalize on the results.

A GOP lawmaker says he's committed to launching an effort to change the state’s constitution through amendment, while the state Democratic Party hopes the controversial veto votes will prompt more campaign cash.

But both camps may be ignoring some key facts.

State Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, announced Thursday that he’s proposing a constitutional amendment that would curb the governor’s power to withhold money allocated in the state’s budget.

Richardson is among Republicans who contend that Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision to withhold $400 million from the state’s current budget was political, and was used to sway school districts to pressure their legislators not to override Nixon’s veto of a tax-cut bill, HB253.

The governor, a Democrat, said he withheld the money because, if his veto was overridden, the current year’s revenue estimate – used to create the budget – would be too generous, since some budget experts have contended that HB253 could cost the state up to $800 million a year in income.  By law, Missouri state government must end its fiscal year each June 30 with a balanced budget.

Nixon said the $400 million in “withholds” was a conservative sum. He released the money on Thursday, a day after the General Assembly failed to override his veto.

Richardson, deemed an up-and-comer in the GOP,  wasn’t specific on how his proposed constitutional amendment would be worded. But he said his aim would be “to clearly define the governor’s authority in regard to his ability to withhold funding appropriated by the General Assembly.”

The legislator says he will file a joint resolution when the General Assembly returns in January, in hopes of getting the Republican majorities in both chambers to place the proposal on the 2014 ballot. If passed by both chambers, a joint resolution doesn’t need a gubernatorial signature.

Richardson said he plans to file his proposal on first day of bill pre-filing, on Dec. 1. He already has lined up a Senate sponsor, fellow Republican Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

“We have waited and waited for the Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue and during that time the governor has continued to ignore the boundaries of our constitution by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars while our state has a budget surplus,” Richardson said. “I believe the Missouri Constitution is clear in limiting the governor’s withholding power to times of emergency or funding shortages, but he has continued to challenge that limitation to the point we now lack clarity on this important issue.”

Richardson wasn’t in the General Assembly when the last three Republican governors – Matt Blunt, John Ashcroft and Christopher “Kit” Bond – often used “withholds’’ to make their own fiscal or philosophical points. 

Republicans who controlled the General Assembly during Blunt's tenure rarely complained. (Democrats were in the majority when Ashcroft and Bond were in power, and often did complain about the "withholds.")

Democrats hope veto session wakes up donors

Meanwhile, the Missouri Democratic Party hopes some of the governor’s vetoed bills – most of which originated with Republicans -- will prompt supporters to give the party more money, in hopes of reducing the Republican Party’s huge 2-to-1 edge in the General Assembly.

“If yesterday's spectacle in Jefferson City taught us anything, it's that having strong Democrats in Jefferson City matters to the future of Missouri,” wrote new Democratic Party chairman Roy Temple in Thursday’s email blitz for donations.

“The Republican-led General Assembly proved how out of touch they are with mainstream Missourians by bringing up votes on House Bill 436 (Gun Nullification), House Bill 253 (GOP tax scheme), Senate Bill 267 (Sharia Law), and Senate 265 (Agenda 21),” Temple wrote.

“These bills don't help Missouri families but they certainly demonstrate that the Republican-led General Assembly is controlled by the most extreme elements of their party,’’ he continued.

“Fortunately, our governor and Democratic caucuses were able to stop these bills from becoming law…. But we need more Democratic legislators in Jefferson City to aid in the fight against the Republican Party’s misplaced priorities…”

Temple’s missive fails to note, however, that the Republican majorities in both chambers are so large that it took a few GOP defectors in the House and Senate to prevent the overrides of the bills that he mentioned. The GOP could have overridden Nixon's vetoes without a single Democratic vote.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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