JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's administration has been paying its dues to the National Governors Association with money intended for the oversight of the state's foster care program and other social services.
Republican House leaders, who said they only recently discovered the payments, denounced them Wednesday as "disturbing" and "deceptive," especially in light of Nixon's quest to boost funding for the understaffed foster care program.
"I have a lot of angst about this," said Rep. Sue Allen, chairwoman of the House appropriations committee that handles the budget for the Department of Social Services. "This is not what you would expect from a governor who is committed to doing better for foster children in our state."
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste released a written statement from the governor saying that House leaders should already have been well-aware of the dues payments. The statement called their newfound concerns a "diversionary stunt" to distract from the fact they have failed to expand Medicaid eligibility or overhaul state ethics and tax credit laws.
State financial figures show that the Department of Social Services paid $390,600 in dues to the National Governors Association over the past three years, with more than half of that coming from the administration of the Children's Division that oversees the foster care system. Some money also was paid from divisions overseeing the state Medicaid program, child support payments and food stamps.
Missouri's budget specifically states that money allocated to the Department of Social Services cannot be used for costs associated with the governor's office or other executive branch officials.
Department Director Brian Kinkade told Allen's committee that the payment requests came from Nixon's budget director, Linda Luebbering.
In an interview later Wednesday with The Associated Press, Luebbering said that the National Governors Association works to represent states' interests on federal issues.
"The Department of Social Services is by far the largest federally dependent agency in state government, and that's why I asked Social Services to pay those dues," she said.
Luebbering and Kinkade both said they consider the governors association dues to be an expanse of the state, not the governor's office.
A decade ago, Missouri's annual budget included a specific appropriation to the governor's office to pay association dues. But that is no longer in the budget.
A state audit noted in September 2012 that the social services agency was paying dues for the governors association, though it did not detail precisely which divisions were covering the costs.
Republican lawmakers said Wednesday that Nixon should have paid the dues from his own budget.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, called the dues payments "intentionally deceptive." House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, described them as "incredibly disturbing, disappointing and shocking."
Democratic Sen. Paul LeVota also denounced Nixon's method of paying the association dues.
"I find this news to be outrageous, absolutely outrageous," said LeVota, D-Independence.