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Schweich defends suing Nixon, wants editorial retraction

By   /   August 30, 2011  /   News  /   No Comments

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich called a news conference to defend his lawsuit against the governor and to ask for a retraction, along with an apology, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for an editorial he called dishonest.

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, courtesy MNH

The newspaper editorial accuses Schweich of suing Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon for withholding money from the budget because Schweich is more concerned about his own budget than paying for Joplin aid.

“For them to write an article saying I don’t care about them, is corrupt, dishonest, and a total disservice to the people of Missouri,” said Schweich on Tuesday.

Schweich, a Republican, said he filed the lawsuit against Nixon, a Democrat, to force a legal opinion on whether the governor has the right to withhold money from the budget before it is appropriated.

Gilbert Bailon, editorial page editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said the newspaper editorial is an opinion article based on solid, fact-based reporting.

“A statewide public official suing another statewide official involving millions of dollars in public money is an important matter,” Bailon said, adding the paper stands by the editorial. “It is very unfortunate that the auditor refused to grant media interviews on the subject before the editorial ran, and then held a news conference to use baseless, inflamed rhetoric that distracts from the matter at hand without offering any new insights.”

Schweich released a statement and called an “off the record legal briefing” to discuss the lawsuit on Friday.

His office filed the lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court, asserting the governor violated the Missouri Constitution when he withheld more than $170 million from state agencies prior to the start of the current fiscal year.

“Our state has recently experienced natural disasters of historic proportion,” Schweich said in the statement.

“There is no dispute that the victims of the tornadoes and floods must be fully compensated for their tragic losses. But the process must be legal and transparent. There are many legal and transparent ways to do this.”

Earlier this month, Schweich released an audit questioning the budget withholding process.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, will represent the governor in the case.

In response to the lawsuit, a Nixon spokesperson noted that Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed the state’s AAA credit rating last week. Missouri is one of only a handful of states with AAA ratings by all three major rating agencies.

“A key basis for this rating has been Gov. Nixon’s fiscal discipline in managing Missouri’s budget,” Scott Holste said. “To achieve this, the governor has used his constitutional authority to fulfill his responsibilities to reduce spending to balance the budget, a power used by governors over the years and consistently upheld by the courts. The governor will continue to fulfill his responsibility to balance the state budget.”

As Missouri Watchdog has reported, the $23.29 billion spending plan for this fiscal year, which would reduce spending by 2.1 percent, will be only the third time in 30 years the state has cut spending year over year.

Previously, total spending dropped year over year by 4.7 percent in 2003 and by 2.8 percent in 1984. From 1981 through last fiscal year, ending June 30, spending increased 508 percent from $3.9 billion to $23.8 billion.

By Brian R. Hookbrhook@missouriwatchdog.org, (314) 482-7944

Dick Aldrichdaldrich@monewshorizon.orgMissouri News Horizon contributed.

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Brian formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.