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Nixon, Lawmakers Blame Each Other For Lack Of Budget Cooperation As House GOP Grows Larger

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Republican lawmakers in Missouri are celebrating their increased supermajorities in the State House and Senate, especially with the passage of a constitutional amendment to limit Gov. Jay Nixon's authority over the budget.

Nixon, a Democrat, has temporarily withheld money each year from various state agencies. He has said the withholds are necessary because the GOP-controlled legislature keeps sending him unbalanced budgets. 

Incoming House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, disagrees. He says they write their budgets based on the amount of money actually coming in.

The voters of the state have sent a "pretty clear signal" that they're "sick and tired of the scare tactics and the blackmail that's been used by the governor over the past two years in the budget process," Diehl told reporters Wednesday at the State Capitol.  "The governor has, I think, used time and time again the budget and appropriation process to try to leverage other types of priorities that he may have from a legislative perspective."

Despite Tuesday's results, Nixon says he'll do whatever is necessary to keep the budget balanced. (The Missouri Constitution requires the governor to balance the budget.)

"We would need to see revenue growth of 11 percent, more than double what we now anticipate, to fund fully the budget passed by the (GOP-controlled) legislature," Nixon said.  "That's why I will continue to exercise fiscal restraint to keep the budget in balance and our state on a sustainable path."

Nixon added that the legislature can now override budgetary safeguards conducted his office, and "would put our state for the first time in history in a position of obligating more money than we have."

"You can't spend money you don't have," Nixon said.

Nixon makes staffing changes

Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Jay Nixon (left foreground) announces that Nia Ray (center) will take over as Mo. Dept. of Revenue Director. At right is Deputy Dir. John Mollenkamp.

  Just before taking questions on Amendment 10 and other topics, Nixon announced some changes to his cabinet and staff.

Nixon promoted Nia Ray to director of the Missouri Department of Revenue, effective Dec. 1.  Since 2012, Ray has served as director of the Division of Employment Security within the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.  Her appointment as revenue director will require confirmation from the Missouri Senate.

Nixon also announced that Chris Pieper will become his new chief of staff, also effective Dec. 1.  He has served as the governor's senior legal and policy advisor.  Pieper succeeds John Watson, who will remain on board as a senior advisor.  Watson has worked as Nixon's chief of staff since 1997, dating back to Nixon's days as Mo. Attorney General.

House Republicans choose new leaders

One day after expanding their supermajority, Missouri House Republicans officially chose new leaders for the 98th General Assembly, which takes office in 2015 and stays in power for two years.

Diehl was chosen to be House speaker, although he won't be officially elected until the House convenes in January. House Democrats are expected to nominate their highest-ranking member for speaker as well, even though Republicans have more than enough votes to choose the next speaker.

Diehl began Wednesday's press conference at the  Capitol by saying, "I think we need a bigger room," prompting cheers from the crowd of incumbent Republican House members and newly elected ones scheduled to be sworn in two months from now.

State Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, was elected majority floor leader, the position currently held by Diehl.  Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, was re-elected speaker pro-tem, Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, was re-elected assistant majority floor leader; Delus Johnson, R-St. Joseph, will be the new majority whip; Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill, was re-elected as majority caucus chair; and Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, was re-elected as majority caucus secretary.

Committee chairs will be chosen later, but Diehl says he expects state Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, will be the next house budget chair.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are scheduled to announce their new leaders Thursday. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, is the current president pro-tem, but it's possible that the Senate GOP caucus could choose Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, instead. Richard also served as House Speaker from 2009 to 2010.

Linda Black leaves Democrats for GOP

Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Linda Black, R-Desloge, attends her first Mo. House press conference as a Republican.

The chamber's GOP caucus grew to 117 members after Tuesday night's election results. It inched up to 118 members after state Rep. Linda Black of Desloge announced earlier today that she was joining the Missouri Republican Party after serving six years as a Democrat. She was re-elected to her final two-year term as a Democrat Tuesday night.  She explained her decision in a written statement:

"I've contemplated this move for quite some time," Black said in a written statement.  She continues:

"It's a decision I've wrestled with, because I've been a Democrat my whole life.  Increasingly, though, I find it difficult to square my social and moral beliefs, and, I believe, the social and moral values of voters in my district, with some of the views of the Democratic Party. "I have two years remaining to serve the people of the 117th District, and I believe this move will let me best represent those citizens – Democrats and Republicans – who have entrusted me with their vote.  I will never take that trust for granted. "I want to emphasize that I'm not changing.  I will continue to fight for the working-class people who put me in office.  I will continue to focus on what's best for the blue-collar workers in the mining community I was raised in.  And when it's necessary to stand on my own against the majority party, I will do so.  My core beliefs have not and will not change."

House Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, released the following statement after Black's decision went public:

"State Rep. Linda Black's decision to change political parties one day after winning re-election as a Democrat is a betrayal of her constituents, and the timing of her announcement makes it clear she had intended to do this all along. If Black had wanted to become a Republican, she should have run on the Republican ticket instead of pulling a deceptive bait and switch on St. Francois County voters."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.