- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri advocacy groups and residents pleaded with state lawmakers Tuesday for millions of state dollars currently restricted by Gov. Jay Nixon that would cover programs ranging from arts education to help for victims of domestic violence.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee heard three hours of testimony about many of the programs supporters said are now under financial strain because of roughly $700 million in withheld funds. Nixon has said the restrictions are necessary because of concerns about declining revenues and the potential for lawmakers to further drain the state’s finances by enacting tax breaks for businesses.

“We can’t spend money we don’t have,” Nixon’s spokesman Scott Holste said.

The hearing came the day before Nixon is set to call in his State of the State address for “continued fiscal discipline” and increased funding for public education, according to a statement from his office.

Nixon’s efforts to curb spending prompted frustrated legislators to propose an amendment to the state constitution to slash governors’ authority to control the budget.

Since that amendment passed in the November election, lawmakers this session have new powers to override restrictions or slowed spending by governors. But it’s unclear whether legislators can use those powers on restrictions made by Nixon before the measure passed.

Among those spending restrictions is money budgeted for students to attend arts schools, mentoring programs for children of inmates and assistance for sexual assault and domestic violence victims.

Missouri Association of Area Agencies On Aging Executive Director Catherine Edwards asked for $2.4 million in funding next fiscal year for programs for the elderly, such as home-delivered meals. That figure includes $400,000 vetoed by Nixon last fiscal year.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said if lawmakers act on the spending restrictions, they’ll prioritize money for many of the programs discussed Tuesday.

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine

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