Fitzpatrick aims for committee chairmanship

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Representative named vice chairman of Budget Committee

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, is taking aim at one of the most powerful positions in the State House of Representatives -- chairman of the Budget Committee in the Missouri House of Representatives.

Named vice chairman of the committee last week, Fitzpatrick said if all goes as planned, he hopes to become chairman of the committee in two years, which could set him up for a rare two-term chairmanship.

Part of the 98th General Assembly, the committee is tasked with drafting the state's $26 billion budget.

State Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, the newly-elected House speaker, appointed Fitzpatrick to the vice chairmanship, and Fitzpatrick said the next speaker is likely to name him chairman.

"Why I'm in the position I am now is because the current speaker knows I have an interest in the state budget," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm a building up my knowledge base, and my goal is when [State Rep.] Todd Richardson, [R-Poplar Bluff], becomes speaker in two years, he will pick me as the budget chairman.

"The budget committee is seen as the most powerful in the House, and I'll be part of the leadership team."

Concerning the possibility of a four-year stint as chairman after his two as vice chairman, Fitzpatrick said such an opportunity is not common.

"That's something that doesn't happen all the time, to have a chance to be chairman for four years," he said. "The odds are I would have the opportunity to stay in that position during my last term, and I don't anticipate doing anything else."

Fitzpatrick said although the future looks promising, it all hinges on his continuing to run for reelection and continuing to be reelected.

"Plans can change," he said. "Just ask Eric Cantor, [former U.S. House Rep., R-Va.], about that."

In the meantime, Fitzpatrick said his goal as vice chairman of the Budget Committee will be to soak in as much information about the budget as he can.

"The state budget is humongous, and I've spent the last two years focusing on it," he said. "I will spend even more time with it over my next term, and my goal is to be the most knowledgable when it comes to the budget. It's an immense task to pass a good budget, and the more we know, the more we can see where the challenges are."

The state budget has caused a number of headaches for legislators and Gov. Jay Nixon over the last year. Projected to be up at the end of fiscal year 2014, which ended in June 2014, Fitzpatrick said a 7 percent drop in the fourth quarter, after the 2015 budget had been passed, led to a dip in revenues and disagreements concerning withholdings by Nixon.

"We've agreed to a 4.6 percent revenue growth estimate for 2015, and a 3.6 percent revenue growth estimate in 2016," Fitzpatrick said. "That would mean $300 million in new money, but with the department of revenue requests for new items at $470 million, there's still a $170 million difference. We will have to reconcile that difference before any programs get an increase."

Only a sophomore representative, the 27-year-old Fitzpatrick said becoming vice chairman of the Budget Committee was a welcome surprise, as he was previously being considered for the chairmanship of the Education Appropriations Committee, which is like a sub-committee to the Budget Committee.

"A lot of the assignments are based on seniority," he said. "I was really happy with the opportunity [to chair the education appropriations committee] because not many in my class of legislators have the opportunity to chair a committee.

"A couple weeks went by, and we talked about me maybe being the vice chairman of the Budget Committee, and if I wanted that I needed to let them know. So, I told them I would prefer to be on the Budget Committee."

Fitzpatrick said he hopes in his new position, he will be able to tighten up spending by the state government.

"I'm there to help the process as much as I can, and my role is to be a behind-the-scenes leader," he said. "I'll look at the funds in each department and try to identify where there is waste that may be eliminated.

"I'll try to make sure we get a budget out that is pretty conservative, and my goal is to get a budget out that has no withholds so everyone knows they will be getting the money that's budgeted."

Along with his vice chairmanship of the Budget Committee, Fitzpatrick is also the vice chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee, a member of the Government Oversight Committee and a member of the Employment Security Committee.

Fitzpatrick represents House District 158, which includes Barry County and portions of Stone and Lawrence counties, including western Pierce City.

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