CHICAGO – Missouri lawmakers say they want to keep debate over Gov. Eric Greitens’ $29 billion fiscal 2019 budget, tax plan, and other legislative policy issues on track, despite calls for the governor’s resignation and a House probe that some believe could lead to impeachment proceedings.
A St. Louis grand jury on Thursday indicted the first-term GOP governor on a felony charge of invasion of privacy stemming from alleged actions tied to an adulterous relationship. Greitens beat his Democratic challenger, former attorney general Chris Koster, in the 2016 race to take office early last year. The former Navy Seal was a political novice who had never run for office.
“The committee is going to keep moving the budget along through the hearing process and we don’t expect any delay,” with the expectation of sending budget bills on to the Senate next month, said Matt Choinka, a legislative aide to House Budget Committee chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. Hearings are ongoing. The legislature faces a constitutional adjournment date in May.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said in a statement late last week Greitens had damaged the governor’s office with his actions, but he hoped to keep the session on schedule saying “We will take care of the people’s business,” despite debate about Greitens future.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner announced the grand jury indictment which comes after her office launched an investigation in January into allegations that he took a photo of a partially nude woman and transmitted it.
The married Greitens admitted to the sexual relationship after the woman’s ex-husband spoke publicly about the relationship and said the governor had threatened his then wife to expose the photo if she revealed the affair. The felony count indicates that the photograph was allegedly transmitted.
“As I have said before, I made a personal mistake before I was Governor. I did not commit a crime,” Greitens said in a Facebook posting. “The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.” Gardner is a Democrat. Greitens’ lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss the indictment.
Since the indictment some Republicans have joined Democrats in their calls for the governor to step down with the GOP circulating a petition to pressure such a move to avoid an impeachment process.
The House will convene late Monday during a session in which lawmakers are expected to take up a resolution calling for a probe of Greitens’ actions, and it will appoint members to a review panel which would include three Republicans and two Democrats. It could lead to impeachment. The Senate also convenes late Monday but the House leads the review process.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, the president pro tem and majority leader, issued a statement late last week saying the chamber would “carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward."
The Democrat-led Illinois House initiated impeachment proceedings against fellow Democrat Rod Blagojevich in 2009 after his arrest in late 2008 on federal corruption charges. He was removed from office and replaced by his lieutenant governor Patrick Quinn.
Greitens in January unveiled a proposed budget that includes a $9.8 billion general fund and he has proposed overhauling the state’s tax system. The budget would increase kindergarten-through 12th grade spending by 1.4%, or $87 million, to $6.1 billion while trimming nearly $100 million from higher education appropriations.
Fitzpatrick recently announced that the higher ed cut would be eased with additional funding that had been set aside to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The funds are no longer needed because the federal government renewed the program. The budget would cut some spending on Medicaid and eliminate 188 positions.
The budget proposal provides $162.8 million in infrastructure funding for roads and bridges and $25 million to establish a new Jobs and Infrastructure Fund that will assist local governments with matching funds. Greitens wants to hold the line on the state’s fuel tax despite calls from some GOP members to raise it.
Revenues are estimated to grow by 1.9% in the current fiscal year that runs through June 30 and 2.5% in fiscal 2019.
Lawmakers are also considering a tax overhaul proposal under which income tax rates would be lowered for residents with more than $9,000 of income, lower income residents would not be taxed, and business taxes would fall. The lost revenue would be made up for by eliminating loopholes and various tax breaks in a way that’s “revenue-neutral” and would “maintain our state’s triple-A rating,” Greitens said in a statement.