Saturday, 16 January 2021

In response to complaints, Missouri governor outlines reasons for budget vetoes

JEFFERSON CITY — Although his explanations are coming more than three weeks late, Gov. Mike Parson outlined Thursday why he carved more than $10 million out of the state budget.

The two-page explanation from the Missouri Republican’s legislative director Justin Alferman came in response to a request by Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, who said the new governor violated the state constitution when he failed to state the reasons he vetoed the money out of the state budget last month.

Kendrick’s request came after a sometimes testy exchange between lawmakers and the administration on Tuesday in which members of the House Budget Committee grilled various agency chiefs on the effects of the cuts.

In his letter to the governor, Kendrick said, “The lack of explanations in this year’s line-item veto messages resulted in substantial confusion during a House Budget Committee hearing today as we attempted to review the impact of those actions. The reasons behind your decisions may very well be sound, but without the benefit of knowing them, committee members were forced to speculate.”

Parson, who took office June 1 after the resignation of former Gov. Eric Greitens, signed off on most of the $28.6 billion budget approved by the Legislature in May.

But, he cut a number of items, including $500,000 that was supposed to help Harris-Stowe State University renovate facilities for a science and technology laboratory. Parson did leave $250,000 of the grant intact.

In his explanation, Alferman said the one-time grant for the St. Louis institution is not an adequate solution for an ongoing problem.

“We are committed to finding a long-term solution to the university’s funding needs,” Alferman wrote.

Parson also vetoed $1 million that had been set aside to allow for the state to acquire homes contaminated by radioactive waste in the area near the Bridgeton Landfill in north St. Louis county.

Alferman said the money, championed by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, and Rep. Mark Matthiesen, R-Maryland Heights, is not necessary because the landfill has agreed to pay $16 million to settle a 2013 lawsuit by the Missouri Attorney General’s office that claimed a “subsurface reaction” was harming the health of nearby residents.

Under the terms of the agreement, landfill owners will pay $12.5 million into the Bridgeton Landfill Community Project Fund. The money could be used only as “compensation and restitution” to communities within a four-mile radius of the now-shuttered landfill and to pay for environmental cleanups “explicitly authorized by Missouri law.”

But, the money cannot be used to buy out homeowners, for lawsuits or lobbying or to reimburse any damages or losses, the agreement says.

Matthiesen said he was not surprised by the governor’s decision to cut the money because lawmakers had not approved a program designed to oversee how the $1 million would be spent.

Parson also vetoed $50,000 for a program that would have paid for police to be equipped with tourniquets to stop bleeding. He said the issue should be left to local governments.

Parson also said he wants to find a new funding source for a program that helps get stroke and heart attack patients to the most appropriate facility in the shortest amount of time.

Members of the budget committee scolded Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams during the Tuesday hearing, accusing him of botching the rollout of a new way to fund the state’s Time Critical Diagnosis System, as well as misleading lawmakers about the status of the program.

Parson vetoed $153,000 from the program — representing about three full-time staffers — setting off alarm bells that the program may be discontinued.

In his explanation, Alferman said the cost of the three people who oversaw the program can be absorbed in the existing budget while the administration attempts to have hospitals finance the program.

Lawmakers, including House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, argue once the money was vetoed, the program cannot continue unless the House and Senate override the veto in September.

Kendrick said the governor’s letter appears to meet the constitutional requirement that he explain why he cut funds.

“We would have liked to have seen this when the vetoes were announced though,” Kendrick said.


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