JEFFERSON CITY -For Missouri school districts trying to get state money withheld by Gov. Bob Holden, it's now a waiting game.
The Supreme Court was the final stage Wednesday in a legal battle that began in July after the governor ordered more than $190 million in withholdings to public schools.
On Tuesday, Holden released $75 million in federal money from Medicaid to public schools. House Republican leaders continually have called on the governor to release the whole of the withholdings due to revenue increases for the first part of this fiscal year.
Michael Delaney, the schools' attorney, argued education appropriations were protected from the governor's power to withhold money from the state and its agencies when revenue for the state comes up short.
"The structure that protects school funding means that he has to place that appropriation off limits and use the balance of the budget," Delaney said.
Schools point to a section in the state constitution which denies the governor the power to tamper with the education budget through his line item veto power - "The governor shall not reduce any appropriation for free public schools," reads Article IV, Section 26 of the Missouri Constitution.
Delaney said that Holden did essentially just that on the eve of this fiscal year. "He signed the appropriations bill on June 30th with the full amount of the appropriations, and announced the next day that he was going to withhold $190 million," Delaney said.
The state countered that the line item veto provision does not supersede the governor's constitutional right to withhold money from any part of government when revenue falls well short of the amount projected - "The governor may control the rate at which any appropriation is expended during the period of the appropriation...whenever the actual revenues are less than the revenue estimate upon which the appropriations are based," reads Article IV, Section 27 of the Missouri Constitution.
David Cosgrove, the governor's council, said "there is no specific part of government which does not suffer from the receipt of an underfunded budget."
Cosgrove said that any appropriation sent by the general assembly which is not supported by real money is subject to being controlled and having the expenditures match the real money.
In November, a Cole County circuit court judge ruled that the governor had a constitutional obligation to take whatever measures necessary to make sure that expenditures do not exceed revenue in the state.
The Supreme Court has also upheld the governor's authority over the budget in past cases.
Superintendents now await the court's decision.
"The Supreme Court of our state is the final deal, so if we lose that, at least the questions that have been out there for a long time have been answered," Scott Taveau, superintendent for Liberty schools said.