Legislative Column for the Week of Jan. 26, 2015
Protecting the Important Checks on the Executive Branch

Shown above, Sen. Silvey welcomed students from Youth with Vision to the Capitol this week.

This week, professional football and the question of executive budget authority, two seemingly unrelated topics, collided to become a major point of focus for many lawmakers in the Capitol. It began with the St. Louis Rams, who recently announced plans to move to Los Angeles unless a new stadium is built. In a bid to keep the team in the city, the governor’s administration hastily created a plan for a stadium project estimated to cost almost $1 billion; taxpayers would cover about $400 million of that.

Lawmakers immediately voiced their reservations about the effort. While professional sports teams are an economic boon to the state, Missouri’s also facing funding shortfalls in education, transportation and numerous other programs. It would be a hard sell to the public, especially when 50,000 veterans are going without healthcare, the school foundation formula is underfunded by more than $500 million, and our highways are predicted to become gravel roads in the next 30 years if something isn’t done soon.

Lawmakers’ concerns were of little note to the governor, though. On Wednesday, an official in his office told our Senate Appropriations Committee that the executive branch has the authority to issue new bonds on its own, without legislative or public approval, per an extremely loose interpretation of a more than 20 year old statute.

It was shocking news. The governor’s office truly believes that it can put our state into debt, for almost $400 million, without any kind of public oversight. As a lawmaker, and as a taxpayer, I find this interpretation of executive authority questionable and extremely dangerous.

Let me be clear:  the issue is not about the St. Louis Rams. It’s not even really about our current governor. It’s about him creating a precedent where future administrations can supersede not only the people’s elected officials, but the public itself, to spend possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to do what it thinks is right for the state. No debate, no public vote, only the political beliefs of a single individual. That is not how government should function. Such a move is an arrogant rebuke to the checks and balances that have protected our republic and its citizens for more than 200 years. 

There are, however, steps the Legislature could take. If the governor did issue bonds for the project, the General Assembly would still control the appropriations bills needed to pay the debt service on the bonds. Some members have pondered blocking those payments. That could harm our AAAA credit rating, though, which I protected as House Budget Chairman, even in the wake of the 2008 recession. The governor’s latest move could set in motion events that could endanger the fiscal responsibility in our budget we’ve worked hard to maintain for years. 

We are stewards of taxpayer money. The positions we hold at the Capitol are finite. It’s our responsibility to spend public money efficiently and as effectively as possible, without burdening future generations with unmanageable debt. I hope in the coming weeks, the governor backs away from this position. If he truly feels this a project critical to the state’s economy, he should work with legislators and the public to discuss a funding solution. That’s accountable government.

In other news, I was pleased to host this week in my office a group from Youth with Vision, made up of students from North Kansas City and Liberty. They were able to take a tour of the Capitol, watch a portion of Senate debate, and join me on the floor of the upper chamber.

As always, I am here to serve the 17th District. I welcome any discussion, questions or concerns regarding Missouri government. Please feel free to contact me at the State Capitol: (573) 751-5282, ryan.silvey@senate.mo.gov, or by writing to Sen. Ryan Silvey, Missouri State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol Ave., Room 331A, Jefferson City, MO 65101.