Greitens scandal becomes fodder for Missouri bond disclosure
The sexual misconduct and ethics charges that are threatening Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ future so far have posed only a disclosure issue for state finances as lawmakers signed off on a new $28.3 billion budget.
Facing a Friday deadline, lawmakers on Wednesday approved the 13 bills that make up the budget package negotiated by a conference committee based on versions passed by the House and Senate; lawmakers will wrap up work on other issues over the next week. Greitens has not commented on the final budget.
Immediately after adjourning the regular session on May 18, the GOP-dominated legislature will convene a special session during which it will consider disciplinary action against the first-term Republican governor, including possible impeachment.
Greitens headed to St. Louis Circuit Court Thursday for the start of jury selection on a criminal felony charge of invasion of privacy stemming from alleged actions tied to an adulterous relationship. Greitens is fighting the charge.
Greitens also faces a separate felony charge for allegedly tampering with computer data to defraud or obtain property. Those charges stem from his alleged use of a donor list from a charity Greitens founded, The Mission Continues, to benefit his campaign.
State finance officials have sought to allay any investor fears that the proceedings will impact state fiscal management.
The final offering statement on a Board of Public Buildings’ $47.7 million deal that closed May 1 reported: “Irrespective of the outcome of either of the pending criminal charges, the civil proceedings, the pending House investigation, or of any future action by the House of Representatives and/or the Senate, if any, there is not expected to be any adverse impact upon the ability of the state or the office of the governor to carry out their constitutional and statutory governmental operations.”
Greitens serves as chairman of the Board of Public Buildings. The disclosure notes Greitens’ Feb. 22 indictment on the invasion of privacy charge for “conduct which allegedly occurred prior to his taking office” in January 2017.
The budget approved by lawmakers assumes 1.9% growth in revenues over projections for this year. No new borrowing is authorized and the state has exhausted most refunding opportunities so the state’s triple-A rated paper will remain rare, said a state finance official.
Talk had circulated about borrowing for a fine arts project and a veterans’ home but none came to fruition. A short-term cash flow borrowing was considered but in the end revenues were sufficient to manage through the fiscal year.
Talk of a gasoline tax or some other revenue stream for the state highways commission has also failed to gain traction and the recent $47.7 million sale represented the last piece of a $300 million bonding authorization for state buildings and universities.
The budget increases public school funding by about 3% to $3.49 billion and spares public universities a $68 million cut proposed by Greitens in his original spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Universities must hold any tuition increase to 1%.
"This body and our partners in the Senate have shown a commitment to funding K-12 education that most of the neighboring states that surround us have not," House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick said during debate, citing protests in other states like Arizona.
Democrats pressed for more education spending, blaming past tax cuts for a lack of funding to meet needs. They also warned against possible tax cuts that could be considered in the final days of the session. The GOP holds a legislative majority.
The budget provides a $700 raise for state employees earning less than $70,000 and 1% for those earning more.
Missouri's revenue collections for fiscal 2018 at $7.8 billion are up 2.1% from $7.64 billion last year, state budget director Dan Haug said in the latest general revenue report through April. Revenues are estimated to grow by 1.9% in the current fiscal year that runs through June 30 and 2.5% in fiscal 2019.
While Greitens’ future is under question amid bipartisan local and national calls for his resignation, the governor said he would press forth with a list of governmental objectives.
Last week, the administration released a list strategic management priorities. “Like any other organization, improving government performance requires clear priorities,” the governor’s chief operating officer Drew Erdmann said in a statement.