JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A Republican Senator doesn’t want to give the attorney general’s office any more money in the new budget because of the lawsuits he filed against schools and communities.
Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Republican from Springfield, removed half a million dollars from next year’s budget for Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office. The money was added in by the House to hire five additional attorneys.
“I want local school boards to govern themselves,” Hough said. “School boards are elected by the communities that those schools exist in.”
Hough is the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He removed the money Wednesday during a markup session while discussing the budget for elected officials.
“I can’t even tell you how many correspondents from around the state from people saying, is it normal that the attorney general is suing all these local school districts,” Hough said in an interview Thursday.
Last year, Schmitt, who’s running for retiring U.S. Senate Roy Blunt’s seat, sued more than 45 schools, including Springfield, Kansas City, and St. Louis for COVID-19 mitigations like masks. Hough said besides the lawsuits, he wants to know why the office needs more attorneys.
The budget for the attorney general’s office is nearly $28 million. The $500,000 was not requested from Schmitt’s office but instead was added by representatives.
“I want an honest conversation with the attorney general’s office about the necessity to add half a million dollars to his budget, that’s quite frankly that simple,” Hough said.
Democrats in both chambers commended Hough Thursday for the cut.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” said Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) who sits on the House Budget Committee said. “It’s nice to hear it come from a Republican.”
“I think half a million dollars is probably not enough but it’s something that obviously needed to be done,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence). “I don’t think you need to be a Democrat or Republican to understand what he’s done is pretty embarrassing to the state in filing lawsuit after lawsuit.”
Hough’s Republican colleagues are unsure how the move will play out in debate next week.
“Would I say schools handled everything just right, absolutely not,” said Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia). “Would I say the attorney general went a little out of his way for political purposes? Yeah, probably. There’s probably a little bit of blame to go around on both sides.”
Senate president Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) is also a candidate for U.S. Senate.
“It’s well within the rights of the attorney general to go down that path, but whether this was more of an ability to draw attention to himself and his office, I think the attorney general had made it adamantly clear that he has done some things that draw attention.”
Christ Nuelle, a spokesman for Schmitt’s office said in a statement Thursday: “We will continue to fight government overreach at all levels with whatever resources the legislature gives us.”
Hough said he hasn’t heard from the attorney general since making the cut. He did say in an interview that he and Schmitt are good friends and were roommates for several years while he was in the Senate and Hough was in the House.
Most of the lawsuits filed by the attorney general have been dismissed over the past few months.
Next week, the Senate will take up the budget for debate. The deadline to get the budget to the governor’s desk is May 6 at 6 p.m.