Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
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It's the legislature's approach to budgeting as much as the governor's actions that are at the center of the lawsuit that the state auditor has filed against Gov. Jay Nixon's budget withholdings for natural disaster relief.
At the center of the issue are the characters "1E" that you'll find in the state's budget, including financial support for tornado-ravaged Joplin and the flooded areas of Missouri.
The history of those two characters represent a fundamental shift in the control of the state's budget, which has been evolving in Missouri government during the past few decades.
Although there is no legal definition for that "1E" entry, the two characters are supposed to mean "one dollar, estimated."
Years ago, the "E" character was added to federal funds that are provided to the state for specific programs. Authority to spend federal funds must be included in the appropriations. Often, however, the legislature does not know exactly how much federal money will be available for a specific program before the legislature has to finish the budget.
The federal budget year starts three months after Missouri's — and Congress often misses that deadline. So, by the time Missouri's budget must be passed in May, state officials often do not have a precise idea how much federal funding will be available for various programs.
To deal with that problem, someone came up with the idea years ago to add the letter "E" at the end of some of the dollar figures in the budget that involved federal funds. Without any formal legal explanation of the character, there has been a general understanding that the letter "E" after an appropriations figure essentially indicates that an agency could "spend all it can get."
While the "E" approach initially was limited to federal funds, a few years back the legislature began adding the letter "E" to appropriations of state tax dollars, called General Revenue.
But General Revenue is a quite different pot of money. It is money over which the legislature most definitely has control to allocate. Those funds cannot be spent without authorization from the legislature and the governor. And unlike a lot of federal money, the state can keep for the next year any unspent General Revenue funds.
At the same time, government budget folks gave up even trying to estimate how much might be involved. So, for disaster relief appropriations from General Revenue this year, there is just the numeral "1" followed by the letter "E" to designate some undefined quantity of money to be spent.
Maybe, as budget leaders have argued with me over the years, this approach makes sense for federal funds over which the state has no control as to the amount of money the state will get. But if "1E" is added next to state tax dollars for an agency, who decides how much? Can it be expanded to such an amount that funds for other agencies much be cut?
To understand how this relates to the state auditor's lawsuit against the governor, take a look at Section 8.300 of Missouri's current budget. There you will find an appropriation of "1E" to cover emergency assistance by "any state agency responding during a declared emergency at the direction of the governor" to "furnish immediate aid and relief."
What happens if that $1 becomes $150 million from state General Revenue spending, as the governor proposes? What happens if the governor makes it even more?
Is there is no limit to how much money the governor can spend from a "1E" budget line? Can the governor make that "1E" expenditure so large that other appropriations have to be cut, or withheld?
And, as one senior Democrat in Missouri's legislature has asked, can the legislature even delegate to someone else its constitutional responsibilities to control General Revenue?
It's not very often that Missouri's courts are asked to answer such a fundamental question about the balance of powers in Missouri government.
As always, let me know (via email@example.com) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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