Schweich's fit of pique on petitions
The Kansas City Star
Missouri’s initiative petition process is an exercise in frustration.
It is burdensome for state officials, and groups that undertake the hard work of collecting signatures risk having their efforts undone by legal challenges. Even the lawyers and consultants who make a living contesting or defending various initiatives think changes are needed.
But state Auditor Tom Schweich’s decision to suspend his role in that process comes across more as a fit of pique than a constructive step at this time.
Schweich was on the losing end of court challenges to two controversial initiatives, one dealing with payday loan reform and the other the elimination of Missouri’s income tax. In both cases, Cole County judges struck down Schweich’s estimates of how much the measures would cost the state. The judges also threw out Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s ballot summaries.
Instead of writing new estimates, as the judges ordered, Schweich plans to await the results of legal appeals. By that time, though, the point will likely be moot because of a missed deadline for turning in signatures.
Initiative petitions have been a headache for Schweich, a Republican, and Carnahan, a Democrat. They received 144 petitions for possible inclusion on this year’s November ballot. Many were unserious measures, or different versions of the same cause. But state law requires a fiscal estimate and a ballot summary for each.
To complicate matters, a third Cole County judge ruled recently that the auditor’s office lacked constitutional authority to issue fiscal notes at all. Yet other judges have ruled differently on that issue.
It’s a mess, all right. But Missouri auditors have been writing fiscal impact summaries — and getting sued over them — since the 1990s.
And voters should have an idea of what an initiative might cost the state.
What’s needed is legislative action. A bill intended to cut down on frivolous petition filings and expedite the process is moving slowly in the Senate.
If Schweich’s show of defiance gets lawmakers moving, he’ll have done a service. Otherwise, his refusal to go along will simply make a muddled situation even worse.