If Governor Kim Reynolds’ new years resolution for 2018 was to not get sued, she failed that goal after just two days. If her new plan is for that lawsuit to be unsuccessful, she probably didn’t like what she heard from fellow Republicans this week.
State Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City filed a lawsuit against Reynolds and budget director David Roederer on Tuesday, alleging that the $13 million that Reynolds transferred from the state’s emergency fund to cover a budget shortfall in September was illegal. Reynolds and her staff responded by calling it a political stunt, yet at the same time they seemed to indicate that perhaps the governor didn’t comply with state law.
“The Legislature is free to change the outdated transfer statute, and we’d encourage them to do so,” said Reynolds spokesperson Brenna Smith, which sounded like they were on shaky grounds on the budget transfer.
Then in a roundtable discussion with reporters on Thursday, Republican Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer admitted that Reynolds’ move “was, perhaps, not the letter of the law, so we will be happy to change that.”
Reynolds herself even seemed to concede that she only complied with the “intent” of the law, a caveat that probably won’t hold up under legal scrutiny.
If the Republican-controlled Legislature changes the law regarding the governor’s authority on transferring funds to cover new budget shortfalls, it’ll essentially be an admission of guilt. And there’s a good reason that there’s limits on this in the first place – you don’t want a governor unilaterally moving around tens of millions of tax dollars to cover up mismanagement of the budget.
Reynolds transferred the $13 million last year from the state’s emergency fund in order to avoid a special session to fix the latest budget gap. Doing so helped avoid a potentially embarrassing reconvening of the Legislature that would have furthered narratives about Reynolds’ budget woes.
Of course, a fresh round of stories about Reynolds having broken state law probably isn’t going to help either. It’s one more unforced error that has caused a nonstop stream of poor news coverage for a governor who hasn’t even held her office for a full year yet.
State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald warned Reynolds about this exact legal issue last year, but was ignored.
“When the Legislature convenes next week, it has the authority to fix the Governor’s illegal transfer and update state law to further protect taxpayers in the future,” Hall said in a statement on his lawsuit earlier this week.
by Pat Rynard