JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri legislative budgeters on Thursday questioned why and how Gov. Eric Greitens' administration found money for a new program to fight prescription drug misuse amid strained state finances and without first asking lawmakers.
House Budget Committee members during a Jefferson City hearing complained that Greitens never received approval to spend the roughly $470,000 it's estimated to cost to run the program this fiscal year. Greitens in July announced the program to analyze prescription and dispensing data to catch overprescribing of addictive medications.
"You can't spend above what we appropriate," Versailles Republican Rep. David Wood told Budget Director Dan Haug.
The governor's new program comes after he cut $250 million in other areas to balance the budget this fiscal year. Republican Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, of Jackson, warned that Greitens has a "huge PR mess" on his hands because lawmakers also now are trying to come up with a plan to undo roughly $35 million in cuts to in-home and nursing services for seniors and people with disabilities. Greitens vetoed a bill in June that would have remedied those cuts.
"I've got seniors galore calling me about this," Lichtenegger said. "Why is $500,000 of this money going here instead of helping us fix this problem over here?"
Haug said the administration has the authority and the cash to fund its program, which came after lawmakers this year failed to pass a different prescription drug monitoring program to track when patients receive addictive prescriptions.
Haug told lawmakers that Greitens' plan will be paid for with additional funding that came from the federal government for the Children's Health Insurance Program. He said because that funding was unexpected, using it for the prescription tracking program won't mean budget reductions to other state services.
The clash over the prescription drug program, as well as concerns over how Greitens' administration is using money for metal detector security at the Capitol despite lawmaker disapproval, highlighted tensions between the Republican governor and legislators who worry about him sidestepping their control when it comes to creating the state budget.
Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick told reporters that Greitens' administration has not yet crossed that line. But earlier, Fitzpatrick told Haug "we're on thin ice" and said he won't tolerate that.
"It's not an issue of whether a (prescription drug monitoring program) is a good or bad thing. That's not what this is about," Fitzpatrick told Haug. "I would just tell you that you're about to fly too close to the sun if you keep doing stuff like this."