A special session still hasn’t been called

JACKSON – House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, and his key negotiators said Gov. Haley Barbour is asking for assurances lawmakers cannot provide.
Barbour is requesting that any agreement to fund the Medicaid portion of the budget remain unchanged when he calls a special session to fund state services for the fiscal year.
“We’re not the Iranian Parliament,” McCoy said late Friday, saying House members would have the opportunity to question and change the proposal, like they do all legislation.
Friday came and went with Barbour not calling a special session for the Legislature to vote on a state budget to fund the new fiscal year, which starts Wednesday.
Legislators questioned whether it is inevitable the new fiscal year will begin without a budget, even if Barbour calls a special session as early as Sunday.
Late Friday, after meeting behind closed doors with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, Barbour did not indicate when he would call a special session.
“We’re not to the point of being able to call a special session,” Barbour said. “We don’t have an agreement on Medicaid.”
Last weekend, House and Senate negotiators, appointed by Bryant and McCoy, did reach an agreement on Medicaid, which included a tax on hospitals of at least $60 million annually. Under the agreement, the tax could increase to the $90 million wanted by Barbour.
But Barbour opposed the agreement because it prevented him from making cuts to the reimbursements made to hospitals for treating Medicaid recipients. The Republican governor said he needed that authority in case Medicaid ran a deficit. He said he would not call a special session until the issue was resolved to his satisfaction.
On Friday, Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, one of the key House negotiators, said the House has agreed to the hospital tax and to allow the governor to make cuts to hospitals – with some limitations.
“The governor wants every little detail just the ways he wants it, but we can’t give him that assurance,” said House Medicaid Committee Chairman Dirk Dedeaux, D-Gulfport. “That is what is keeping him from calling a special session.”

A leadership decision
But Dedeaux added the House would be allowed to vote on all items Barbour wanted in the legislation. Barbour has said earlier it is better to work out the Medicaid issue at “the leadership level than to ask 174 members to resolve the issue.”
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, facing the likelihood that it will stop all road construction contracts if a new budget is not approved, apparently offered to provide funds to help solve the Medicaid deadlock, various sources in the Capitol confirmed Friday.
It was doubtful, though, that McCoy would agree to accept funds from the Department of Transportation to deal with Medicaid.
Larry “Butch” Brown, executive director of the state Department of Transportation, said he expects all road construction contractors to continue to work through Tuesday and that money would be available to pay them.
But if a special session is not called by the governor and a new budget bill isn’t passed appropriating funds to the Department of Transportation, work will stop at midnight Tuesday.
“If we have to terminate contracts, it will cause us to spend additional money to get us back to where we are at a cost of about $400 million,” Brown said.
Barbour has said he can run “critical services” through an executive order.
When asked what would happen if there was no state budget, Kevin Upchurch, executive director of the Department of Finance and Administration, and a Barbour appointee, said late Friday, “We’re looking at what options are available to us.”
An opinion issued Friday by Attorney General Jim Hood’s office said the governor could not run the state without an executive order, but that agencies identified in the Constitution would have the authority to draw funds from the state Treasury to continue their duties.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal