The Missouri Conservation Commission and the Missouri Department of Conservation are under assault from some lawmakers; the commission won the latest round in a recent court decision regarding its authority to buy land.
The decision by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Cotton Walker affirmed the commission’s authority to buy land and make payments in lieu of taxes despite lawmakers stripping the funds from this year’s state budget. The judge ruled that the agency was created by voters with absolute authority over the Conservation Fund.
Under the ruling, Office of Administration Commissioner Sarah Steelman must approve the earlier blocked purchase of 510 acres of land in St. Clair County and payments in lieu of taxes to counties.
The win is a welcome rebuke to some lawmakers’ ongoing attempts to hijack control of the agency, though the attorney general’s office has said it will appeal the ruling.
As this editorial board has said before, the Missouri Conservation Commission works well for Missouri, and there is no good reason for lawmakers to muck around with it.
In addition to undercutting the agency’s spending authority, lawmakers attempted this session to present to voters a change that would reshape the commission from a four-member bipartisan body appointed by the governor into a nine-member body screened by lawmakers.
The legislators would send a slate of five nominees for each of eight regions to the governor, who would be required to select one from each slate of five.
That effort would have politicized and made less effective the agency that protects our state’s wildlife, forests and fisheries.
In his decision, Judge Walker wrote, “The voters did intend to give plenary authority over the Conservation Fund to the Conservation Commission.
“The voters did not intend to leave in the hands of the General Assembly the ability to dictate whether, how much, and for what the Conservation Commission could spend from the Conservation Fund.”
It is time for lawmakers to respect the success and responsiveness of the agency as created and supported by voters. The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies.
Worse, it seems as if some lawmakers are trying to break the department.
Voters should make it abundantly clear that effort should stop.