The First Ever Override of a Gubernatorial Withhold

Under the Missouri Constitution, the legislature has appropriations authority. It decides where to spend your tax dollars. Under the constitution and traditions, the governor has three budget responsibilities and powers. The first is to submit a proposed budget to the legislature. The second is to sign or veto budget bills – including the opportunity to make line-item vetoes. The third power is to control the rate of state spending so that, if revenues are falling short of expectations, the governor can save the state’s credit rating by withholding appropriations. Under this power, the governor chooses exactly where to withhold.

Gov. Nixon (and his predecessors) have taken a broader view of this authority than the legislature has deemed appropriate. In some years, the legislature was frustrated by the governor’s decisions to withhold funds even though revenue was on track. By taking a broad view of withholding power, a governor can undermine the legislature’s appropriations power.

The rules on gubernatorial withholds changed in 2014 with the passage of Amendment 10 by a margin of 57 to 43. Under the new language of Art. IV, Section 27 of the Missouri Constitution, the legislature has the authority to override specific gubernatorial withholds.

Opponents have portrayed this new legislative power as dangerous to the state’s credit rating. I disagree for two reasons. First, it does not require the governor to reduce the total amount of his withholds. If the legislature overrides a withhold of $1 million on a specific line item, the governor can respond by withholding $1 million somewhere else. Second, a withhold override requires a super-majority of two-thirds.

This resolution also has the effect of giving the legislature shared responsibility for withholds. Previously, governors have been criticized by members of the opposing party for where they chose to make withholds. Under this change, that criticism will no longer be valid because the General Assembly now has the power to override those decisions.

On Wednesday, the Missouri House took its first action to exercise the powers granted by voters with Amendment 10. We overrode two withholds – $575,000 for the Missouri Scholars and Fine Arts academies, programs for gifted Missouri students, and $350,000 for rehab services for Missourians who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

These withhold overrides are modest and responsible. Last year’s budget was based on a projection of 2.8 percent revenue growth. To date, state revenue is growing at a 4 percent rate. If this trend continues through the end of the fiscal year, the state will receive $300 million in revenue above appropriations. These two withhold overrides are a tiny fraction of that potential surplus.