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Nixon And Adversaries Accentuate The Positives Of Veto Session

Although the Missouri General Assembly overrode 10 bills vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon -- and 47 of his line-item budget cuts -- the governor has opted to look on the bright side of Wednesday’s packed veto session.

Nixon announced Thursday that he’s releasing $143.6 million in budgeted money that he had withheld from school districts and colleges, largely because legislators failed to overturn most of his vetoes of the tax-break bills he had dubbed the “Friday favors.”

House chambers of the MIssouri Capitol
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
House chambers of the MIssouri Capitol

Those bills would have carved out $425 million in state income, he said earlier, to give tax breaks for a variety of business interests, from dry-cleaners to data centers to luxury sports seats. Most had passed during the final Friday of the regular legislative session, which ended in May, prompting the governor's nickname.

The two “favors’’ that did get overridden will deliver a much smaller hit to the state budget. State budget director Linda Luebbering estimates that the elimination of sales taxes for farmers markets will likely cost the state only about $100,000 a year.

The other reinstated tax break changes the burden of proof in tax liability cases. “Ultimately, it’s going to have a cost, but we don’t know what it will be,’’ Luebbering said.

Still, she added, the veto session overall – at least on the tax-break front – had delivered “good news.”

Nixon’s announcement took a similar approach. “Presented with a clear choice between supporting local schools and siding with special interests, the General Assembly yesterday stood with us and made the right decision to invest in the best economic development tool there is: public education,” he said.

Nixon added that he would have had to trim an additional $93 million in school spending if the legislators had reinstated all those “Friday favors.”

Senate procedural battle killed many bills

In fact, the death of some tax breaks may have had little to do with the money at stake. Rather, the state Senate killed off most of them late Wednesday when the chamber’s generally collegial atmosphere collapsed in acrimony after Republican leaders resorted to a rarely used tactic to kill a Democratic filibuster.

The two-hour filibuster had been an attempt to block the override of a vetoed bill mandating a 72-hour waiting period for abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

For the first time in seven years, the GOP majority used a procedural maneuver called “moving the previous question,’’ which requires a simple majority vote to end a filibuster.

That maneuver succeeded, and the Senate went on to approve the 72-hour bill by the minimum majority – 23 votes, all Republicans – needed to pass it.

But afterward, some angry Democrats indicated they then planned to filibuster all the remaining bills. Since it was already late Wednesday evening, Senate leadership opted instead to adjourn – thus stopping any possible overrides of close to a dozen bills, including most of Nixon’s tax-cut vetoes, that already had been overridden by the House.

So far, the governor has said nothing publicly about the 72-hour-waiting-period bill – which is almost certainly to face a legal challenge. Nor has he commented on the override of his veto of a broad-ranging gun-rights bill to allow people with concealed-carry permits to carry their firearms in the open, and bars communities from banning the practice.

The gun bill also lowers the minimum age for concealed-carry permits to 19 and allows schools to arm teachers and other personnel if they receive training.

Fate unclear for overridden line-item vetoes

The governor also hasn’t said what he plans to do about any of the overrides of 47 of his line-item budget vetoes; they represent less than a third of the roughly 160 line-item spending trims that the governor had made. The overrided line-items totalled roughly $36 million.

Linda Luebbering
Credit Provided
Linda Luebbering

Nixon has maintained that most of the line-item vetoes were forced by the General Assembly’s tax-cut actions, because he must balance the state budget. He has said he regretted cutting many of the programs affected.

Legislative leaders acknowledge the questions about the legalities of Wednesday’s line-item overrides.  And all sides agree that Nixon can simply use his “withholding’’ power to keep the overridden spending items in limbo.

Luebbering said that the governor has yet to make any such decisions about the targeted line-item vetoes beyond Thursday’s release of the school money.

Still, some of the potential recipients appear to be celebrating.

Executives with the state’s public defender system lauded the General Assembly’s override of Nixon’s line-item veto of $3.47 million that had been budgeted for contracts with private lawyers.

“This targeted funding relief will allow public defenders to deal with their caseloads in a much more efficient manner,” the agency said in a release. “It will help avoid unnecessary continuances that burden the courts and, quite significantly, it will reduce the amount of time clients needlessly spend incarcerated waiting for their case to be heard.”

But so far, Nixon hasn’t said whether he’ll release that money.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce had sought many of the tax cuts that died Wednesday, including one for data centers. But chamber executives also sought to put the best face on the veto session, by taking note of the reinstatement of the measure changing tax liability.

“This bill addresses that basic issue of fairness. Current law holds that certain employers are guilty until proven innocent. That’s just not right,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO.  “Why should we treat one class of taxpayer differently from the rest?"

School transfer bill dies

The Missouri House, which was in session until 3 a.m. Thursday, didn't act on some efforts that had gotten through the Senate.

Chief among them: a wide-ranging bill addressing the St. Louis area’s student-transfer controversy. Two unaccredited school districts – Normandy and Riverview Gardens – had sent hundreds of students last year to other area districts.

The House took no override vote, reflecting the split with Republican ranks over the legislation.  It had passed last session, but the number of supportive votes was far below the 109 needed for a successful override.

The House did override the governor's veto of a bill governing e-cigarettes. Backers said the bill primarily will bar the sale of electronic cigarettes to people under the age of 18. Nixon had vetoed the legislation because it also exempted e-cigarettes from regulations and taxes that now apply to tobacco products.

Another controversial bill – involving deer – also bit the dust in the House, after passing the Senate,  but by only one vote.  The House came up with 108 votes to override Nixon’s veto of a bill to reclassify captive deer in the state as livestock.  The bill would have shifted oversight of the animals to the state Department of Agriculture and away from the state’s independently run Department of Conservation.

The conservation department has issued a number of regulations governing deer that are fenced in and bred for captive hunting or for their antlers.  Some farmers have objected to the restrictions.

The bill also included a number of other agricultural matters, including tax breaks for the state’s dairy farmers.

Chris Kelly
Credit (Office of Chris Kelly)
Chris Kelly

State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, who is the General Assembly’s senior legislator because he served two different stints – before and after term limits – had helped craft the non-deer provisions but led the fight against the override because of his objections to that aspect of the bill.

Despite the House split, Kelly – who is retiring – received a standing ovation right before the House adjourned early Thursday.  He then Tweeted his pleasure that his last legislative act had been to kill off the bill and, in his view, protecting deer.

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