Missouri Governor Clears Suit on Budget Changes
(CN) - Missouri's auditor jumped the gun on a lawsuit over budget funds Gov. Jeremiah Nixon withheld from other branches of government, the state Supreme Court ruled en banc.
Missouri state auditor Thomas Schweich filed suit after Gov. Jeremiah Nixon announced in June 2011 that he was withholding $6 million from the judiciary's budget, $600,000 from the Legislature's budget and $300,000 from the auditor's budget for the fiscal year 2012.
Schweich argued that Nixon's financial decisions were arbitrary and capricious and violated the Missouri Constitution.
Though a Cole County judge ruled that Nixon had complete discretion to control the rate of spending throughout the fiscal year, he found that Nixon is not authorized to raise appropriations that exceed the Legislature's estimated, or E, amount.
Schweich appealed, but the Missouri Supreme Court shot him down for lack of standing and ripeness.
"The Constitution does not give the auditor the authority to conduct a preaudit of other state officials' spending, which is in effect what the auditor attempted to do by challenging the governor's general authority to withhold funds prior to the end of the fiscal year in which those withholds were to occur," the unsigned, en banc opinion states.
"In essence, in June 2011 the Auditor began an audit of the Governor's FY 2012 expenditure because FY 2012 began," the justices added.
Gov. Nixon has the authority to control the rate of state spending, according to the ruling. Although Schweich had standing to challenge the reduction in his budget, the justices also said the issue was not ripe for a lawsuit.
"Until FY 2012 ended without payment of the $300,000 at issue, it could not be known whether the governor merely was exercising his constitutional authority to control the rate of appropriation of these funds or whether they were being withheld or spent beyond their appropriation entirely," they wrote.
The justices also reversed the trial court's decision in Schweich's favor regarding the "E" appropriations, ruling that he lacked standing.