By Emily Wagster Pettus and Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press
JACKSON – Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday he’ll call a special session within the regular legislative session next week so the House and Senate can quickly consider funding for a civil rights museum and a comprehensive state history museum.
The two projects have stalled during the regular session, and Barbour said he thinks it will be faster for lawmakers to start fresh in a special session.
He said the museums should be built with state money, with private money raised to help provide artifacts.
“I believe these two projects, co-located here in Jackson, are very important to education and to tourism and, more importantly, to the image of the state,” Barbour told reporters at the Capitol. “I think it’s critical that these be finished before the beginning of the bicentennial celebration in 2017. That’s the urgency for doing it now.”
House and Senate negotiators reached a deal late Wednesday on a nearly $5.5 billion state budget for the year that begins July 1. The two chambers are expected to consider dozens of budget bills early next week.
Legislators originally were scheduled to end their three-month session this Saturday. They have some extra work days available because they took snow days off earlier in the session, but they’ll have to extend their session because the state constitution bars them from passing budget bills in the final five days of any session.
The House on Thursday voted for a resolution to extend the session by 30 days, which is standard procedure. Lawmakers are expected to be at the Capitol only a few days.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, said Thursday that the budget compromise on education included level funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, while shaving about $20 million from K-12′s budget in other areas. The Senate had sought about $30 million in cuts, he said.
The budget for the Department of Mental Health is at least $15 million higher than what the Senate had proposed, but senators changed their position “in the spirit of compromise and in trying to get a balanced budget.”
Davis said conferees will now work on the other areas of the budget within the parameters of the tentative agreement.
“Hopefully, we’ll finish this on Monday,” Davis said.
Barbour said he agreed to the budget deal.
“While the spending is higher than I would like, the House did move $50 million or so,” Barbour said. “I had asked the House to reduce spending by $77 million, and that they would compromise that much was a step in the right direction. The Senate felt like it was the best deal we were going to get, so I agreed to it.”
This will not be the first time Barbour will call a special session within a regular session. Only a governor can call a special session, and he sets the agenda.
A bond bill for the civil rights museum and history museum is dead in the regular session, and it would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to revive it. Because of that threshold, Barbour said it would be faster for legislators to consider a new bill in a special session.