Tag Archives: budget

Summary of the County Budget Battle

21 Jan

A low-key budget battle has been going on in Jefferson County over the past few weeks that temporarily prevented the county from making payments. It began when the GOP-dominated council passed on December 26 an amended version of the budget proposed by Republican county executive Ken Waller.

The main difference between the two budgets appears to be whether to cut spending or dip into reserves to fund some items both sides seem to agree on – an additional 0.5% county employee pay raise, the JeffCo Express bus system Highway 30 route, and the county council’s legal fees. (You can see the council’s budget amendments starting on page 182 at this link.)

But instead of signing or vetoing the council’s budget, Waller ignored it. He did so based on his reading of this county charter provision:

7.2.8. No later than the last day of the fiscal year, the County Council by Ordinance must adopt the proposed budget as the County budget for the ensuing fiscal year. If the Council fails to adopt a budget by this date, the budget proposed by the County Executive is to be deemed approved.

His reasoning (aided by county counselor Tony Dorsett) is this, from a January 5 press release:

The Charter makes it very clear that an “Ordinance” is a bill that is both “enacted by the County Council, and signed by the County Executive….” Accordingly, the bill passed by the County Council on December 26, 2017 (Bill No. 17-1150A2, A3), and which I did not sign, was not enacted prior to the last day of the fiscal year of 2017.

I guess he thinks the council’s budget was wiped away on January 1 in favor of his own, and he doesn’t need to bother to veto it? One could argue that the charter provision that a bill not signed or vetoed becomes law after 20 days is relevant here.

Chalk this up to another poorly written item in the charter, but I think this claim involves some twisting of the language. It says the council has to adopt a budget; nothing is said about the executive in 7.2.8. From a practical perspective, this interpretation would mean that an executive could always get his own budget enacted by simply ignoring and/or vetoing the council’s budget and waiting for January 1 to roll around. Does anyone think that was the intent? This provision seems to merely provide for a backup budget in a case where the council refuses to or is unable to pass a budget by majority vote.

But to add another layer to this, look at the next paragraph in the charter:

7.2.9. To implement the adopted budget, the County Council must adopt in accordance with Missouri Law:

7.2.9.1. An appropriation Ordinance making appropriations by Department, Division or other organizational unit and authorizing a single appropriation for each program or activity;

The council passed this ordinance in the same bill as the budget, which was not signed into law. So one might think the budget for this year is not in effect.

County Checks

I have learned from county officials that Jefferson County did not issue checks the first half of this month due to this confusion over the budget. However, Waller  informed the relevant offices that deal with payments (auditor, clerk, treasurer) early this week that Dorsett’s legal opinion was that Waller’s budget is valid and that payments can proceed. New council chairman Don Bickowski (GOP, District 1) had sent an email to these offices last week stating that the lack of an appropriations ordinance meant payments could not be made, and pointing out that the county charter calls for removal of county officers who spend money that is not duly appropriated.

Questions

This state law, RSMo 50.62, seems to be relevant here:

If at the termination of any fiscal year in counties of classes one and two the appropriations necessary for the support of the government for the ensuing year have not been made, the several amounts appropriated in the last annual appropriation order for the objects and purposes therein specified, so far as they relate to operation and maintenance expenses, are deemed to be reappropriated for the several objects and purposes specified in the appropriation order

In summary, if the council doesn’t pass an appropriations ordinance, the county can continue operating at last year’s spending levels. Is this what Waller is doing?

Also, at the January 8 council meeting (agenda here), Waller proposed an amendment to his budget to allocate money for the aforementioned three items (pay raise, bus, legal fees). It passed, 7-0. It would need to be passed again at the next meeting (Monday) to go into effect. But it isn’t on the agenda. Why not?

Stay tuned.

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JeffCo Senators Miffed at Governor

7 Feb

Both of the state senators that represent parts of Jefferson County expressed displeasure with Governor Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican, last week.

First, in a spat that got a lot of attention, Greitens ventured over to the Capitol when it looked like the Senate was going to fail to block a pay raise for elected officials that was recommended by a citizen panel. The raises take effect unless the legislature blocks them by a 2/3 vote in each house. So Greitens called GOP senators who were considering a no vote (no to blocking the raise) or a recusal into the office he was occupying to attempt to convince them to stop the pay raise. Senator Paul Wieland, who later said he was leaning towards a no vote at the time, was one who met with the governor. Wieland said the meeting was tense and that the governor tried to intimidate him.

In the end, Wieland and another senator voted no on the issue, but the pay raise was successfully blocked. Afterwards, Greitens took to Facebook to express his displeasure:

greitens-fb

(see the rest of the post here)

On Sunday, Wieland appeared on the TV show “This Week in Missouri Politics” to give his side of the story. He stated that he “does not respond well to pressure;” that he didn’t want to give in because he thought the governor would come back on the next issue and try to twist his arm again. He said he went from leaning towards support for the pay raise before the meeting to being firmly in favor of it after the meeting, because of the governor’s strong attempt to get him to change his vote.

In explaining his position, Wieland said he opposed pay raises the past three years, but that this raise was only 2% for legislators, who now make about $36,000 per year plus $104 per day for expenses. The legislative session lasts from the beginning of January through mid-May, plus a few days of veto session in September. The raise would have given them about $1,800 more in pay and raised per diem to $150. Wieland said that to attract good people to serve in the government, the pay has to keep up.

Wieland said he met with the governor the day after the pay raise vote, and that they are committed to working together going forward.

The Other Senator

Senator Gary Romine was not happy about Greitens’ budget address:

Specifically, Romine did not like the governor’s reference to “career politicians” (a term Greitens uses a lot) in the legislature causing the current Missouri budget crisis. Romine stated that there are no career politicians in the legislature due to term limits, and that the executive and legislative branches are a team and need to respect each other.

All in all, I know the legislative majority is glad to have a GOP governor now, so he can sign the bills they pass rather than veto them. And I think it is good that we have a governor that is engaged with legislators, as opposed to previous governor Jay Nixon’s aloofness. I also think it is good that the governor and legislature are not completely in lockstep; they need to keep each other accountable so bad bills don’t get passed (insert liberal objections here). Greitens clearly feels that passing a pay raise would have been horrible optics amid the state’s current budget situation. There may be more tense moments going forward, but I think legislative-executive relations will be fine and productive.

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