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Legislators, Governor Spar Over Dues To Governors Group

Gov. Jay Nixon (UPI file photo/Bill Greenblatt)

Missouri House and Senate budget chiefs are accusing Gov. Jay Nixon of misusing state money because his office has paid dues to the National Governors Association for the past three years out of the Department of Social Services’ budget.

“He basically misspent the money,’’ said House Budget chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, during a news conference Wednesday. He was joined by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and state Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country, who heads the House panel that oversees social-service spending. Senate leaders fired off similar complaints.

However, the legislators acknowledged that they couldn’t do anything immediately to block the practice, since the legislative session is about to end, and the budget already has been approved for the coming fiscal year beginning July 1.

Nixon’s staff replied that the spending had never been secret and accused the legislators of using a “diversionary stunt’’ to distract the public from missteps during the legislative session that ends this Friday.

The legislators distributed documentation showing that Nixon’s administration had spent close to $400,000 from the Department of Social Services since 2012 on NGA dues. Much of the money came from the department’s Children’s Division, which includes the foster-care program.

The legislators complained that the National Governors Association’s dues had nothing to do with social services.

Interestingly, the legislators said they can find no documentation of how Nixon paid the NGA dues from 2009-2011, or how his predecessor, Republican Matt Blunt, paid the dues during his term from 2005-2009.  The previous Democrat in the governor’s office, Bob Holden, paid the dues straight from his office budget or from the state’s Department of Economic Development.

Stream emphasized that “we don’t have anything against the National Governors Association,” but any dues should be paid out of Nixon’s own budget.

Nixon has come under fire periodically during his tenure for using money from various departments to pay for costs incurred by his office, including some travel expenses. State Auditor Tom Schweich first took note of Nixon’s use of social-service money to pay the NGA dues in 2012, a fact of which Stream said legislators were unaware.

Nixon said in a statement that Jones and Stream were “well-aware’’ of how his office had paid the NGA dues for the past three years.

“With two and a half days left in the session, this diversionary stunt will fall flat with Missourians wondering why their elected representatives refuse to reform our ethics laws, rein in wasteful tax credit expenditures, or provide health coverage to 300,000 working Missourians through Medicaid expansion,” the governor said. “I urge these legislators to set aside these desperate distractions and use the time they have left in the session to work on making a real difference for the Missourians we serve.”

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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