JEFFERSON CITY — Some Republican Missouri lawmakers are questioning whether their fellow GOP governor has the authority to spend more money than legislators intended on foster-care families.
Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick said Republican Gov. Eric Greitens' efforts to increase spending on those families is an "unconstitutional" move by the first-year governor that steps on the toes of legislators, who are responsible for building the state budget.
"I don't have anything against foster-care providers, but I do think that (the governor has) probably gone beyond the parameters of the (Missouri) Constitution by paying more than the General Assembly," Fitzpatrick said.
Greitens in February recommended that lawmakers cut the rates paid to state-funded health and other welfare providers, including foster-care families, by 3 percent. The Legislature softened those cuts to 1.5 percent, and Greitens signed off on that bill in June.
Last week, he said that was a "mistake" and promised to reverse funding cuts to foster families. Greitens and the first lady have repeatedly said help for foster-care children is a top priority, and foster families were the couple's first dinner guests when they moved into the governor's mansion in January.
Greitens' spokesman Parker Briden in an earlier interview said the governor first became aware of the planned funding cuts after the Department of Social Services notified families of impending pay reductions, which drew backlash. Greitens decided to reverse the cuts and wrote the families to say so.
"I support you. The First Lady supports you. Our team supports you," Greitens wrote. "My team went to work and found the money to make this right."
The administration says there will be enough in savings from placing foster children into permanent homes more quickly to cover the higher foster-care rates, which amount to another roughly $370,000 in the budget year that started in July. Administration spokeswoman Ryan Burns said both programs are outlined in the same place in the budget, giving the governor flexibility to take money from one service and use it for another.
But both Fitzpatrick and the Republican House budgeter who oversees social services spending are raising concerns about the governor's actions.
Rep. David Wood, who heads the subcommittee that deals with health and social services, questioned the decision to prevent cuts to foster-care families but not to other providers, such as those who care for people with developmental disabilities, seniors and people who need in-home care. He also said he's worried about the executive branch encroaching on lawmakers' role in crafting the state's budget, and said legislators' reaction might have been different if a Democratic governor acted similarly.
"If they have the authority to do it," Wood said, "I don't know where it comes from."
Amy Blouin, executive director of the liberal Missouri Budget Project, said it would be "very unusual" for a governor to increase spending above what's been appropriated and said there's a "valid question about whether or not it's possible."
Fitzpatrick said the governor "better not" ask lawmakers for more money for foster-care children for the current budget year when the Legislature convenes again in January. He said that would mean spending more lawmakers approved, and "that is a precedent that cannot go unchallenged." Fitzpatrick added that any potential response wouldn't be aimed at hurting funding for foster-care providers.
This isn't the first time fellow Republican lawmakers have said Greitens is overstepping his authority. Greitens in March issued an executive order to give paid family leave to executive branch employees, drawing criticism from some legislators who argued he needed authority from the Legislature to foot the $1.1 million price tag on the policy change