Dec 4, 2014 – Weekly Capitol Update

NIXON CALLS OFF SPECIAL SESSION ON FERGUSON COSTS

Three days after saying a special legislative session would be needed to cover the unbudgeted costs of the Missouri National Guard and State Highway Patrol response to the ongoing Ferguson protests, Gov. Jay Nixon on Dec. 1 said the session won’t be necessary after all. Nixon had told legislative leaders on Nov. 28 that the state was on the verge of exhausting spending authority set aside in the 2015 fiscal year state budget for emergency responses, requiring immediate legislative approval of additional funding.

Shortly after Nixon, a Democrat, informed leaders of the Republican-controlled General Assembly of his intentions, Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the governor could pay for Ferguson-related expenses using other spending authority included in the state budget. Top Republican legislative leaders subsequently issued a joint statement backing Schaefer’s position and calling a special session unnecessary.

The budget line cited by Schaefer authorizes $12.5 million in state matching funds to receive federal emergency assistance grants. Because there are no federal funds to match in this situation, however, the plain language of that appropriation appears to preclude spending the money on direct emergency response expenses, the position originally taken by the Nixon administration.

But with GOP leaders on record as saying the spending authority could be used for direct emergency expenses, the actual wording of the budget law to the contrary notwithstanding, Nixon accepted their interpretation and called off the special session.

 

PANEL RECOMMENDS PAY HIKES FOR ELECTED OFFICIALS

The Missouri Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials, commonly called the state salary commission, on Nov. 25 recommended lawmakers and statewide elected officials should receive sizeable pay raises over the next two fiscal years. The commission recommendations will automatically take effect on July 1 unless the General Assembly rejects them by two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers by Feb. 1.

The salary commission said state representatives and senators should receive $2,000 raises in both FY 2016 and FY 2017 to bump their annual pay from the current level of $35,915 to $39,915 over two years, an 11 percent increase. The lieutenant governor would also receive an 11 percent raise over two years, while the remaining statewide elected officials – governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor and attorney general – would receive 8 percent increases. Lawmakers and statewide elected officials last received raises in July 2008.

The commission didn’t specifically recommend pay increases for state judges, but maintained the policy it first adopted in 2010 of tying their salaries to a percentage of those of their federal counterparts. As a result, state judges should see relatively small pay bumps over the next two fiscal years as pay for federal judges increases. Under the Missouri Constitution, the 21-member commission is supposed to meet every two years to set salaries for elected officials and judges. However, the commission last met in 2010 and didn’t make recommendations as scheduled in 2012.

 

HIGH COURT CONSIDERS WHETHER TO ALLOW GAY DIVORCE

The Missouri Supreme Court on Dec. 3 heard arguments in a case that raises the question of whether the state constitutional provision that prohibits Missouri from recognizing same-sex marriages also bars state courts from granting divorces to gay couples who were legally wed in another state.

The case involves two Missouri men who married in Iowa in 2012. They filed for divorce in St. Louis County earlier this year, but the judge dismissed their petition, saying he had no authority to grant their divorce since the state doesn’t recognize their marriage.

Although various state and federal trial courts in recent months have struck down Missouri’s gay marriage ban for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Missouri Supreme Court hasn’t yet weighed in on the issue. The state high court could decide to grant the men their divorce without reaching the larger issue of same-sex marriage rights, but it potentially could use the case to strike down Missouri’s gay marriage ban.

 

FY 2015 GENERAL REVENUE COLLECTIONS UP 3.7 PERCENT

Net state general revenue collections through the first five months of the 2015 fiscal year were up 3.7 percent compared to the same period in FY 2014, going from $3.11 billion last year to $3.22 billion this year. Net general revenue collections for November 2014 increased by 1.3 percent compared to those for November 2013, going from $625.1 million to $633.2 million.