By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Even before the Senate actually votes on Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a budget restoration bill, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said Wednesday that legislative leaders are near a compromise on another proposal to reduce the impact of the governor’s cuts.
But House leaders said they are not so sure a compromise is close.
Bryant, who presides over the Senate, said he would work to uphold the governor’s veto this morning and then “immediately move” to conference committee where House and Senate leaders can work on a new proposal to restore some of the $458.5 million cut from state agencies this year by Barbour.
Barbour, as promised, vetoed legislation Wednesday passed by the House and Senate to take $79 million from more than $500 million in reserve funds to restore a portion of the money cut by Barbour this year because state tax collections have not met projections.
Bryant said an agreement is in the works that “restores $38 million in education reductions and the governor will agree to it.” The bill the governor vetoed restored $51 million to education. The governor has cut education by $285 million, or 8.7 percent.
Despite Bryant’s optimism of a pending deal, Barbour sounded defiant in a prepared statement.
Of the veto, he said, “This legislation would virtually guarantee higher taxes within a few years.”
Bryant said the reason a compromise is possible is that the state has an additional $14 million that originally was believed to be owed to the federal government for a Medicaid repayment.
Bryant said the plan would be to appropriate $82 million – instead of the $79 million in the vetoed bill – toward the restoration of the budget. But the new plan would provide $16 million for prisons.
Another reason Barbour has voiced opposition to the bill he vetoed is because it only restored $1 million of the $29 million he has cut from the Department of Corrections.
Chris Epps, Corrections commissioner, has said he will have to stop paying counties to house inmates in county jails later this year because the state can longer afford it. Plus, Epps said inmates might have to be released.
But Epps expressed optimism Wednesday that would not happen because he indicated he believes a portion of the money would be restored.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, one of the key House budget negotiators, said, “We haven’t agreed to anything. There is no compromise.”
House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, confirmed Brown’s statement.
The easiest and quickest way to resolve the budget woes for the current fiscal year, said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, would be to override the governor’s veto this morning.
“This bill is dealing with a relatively small amount of money compared to the size of the state budget,” Bryan said.
“But if you get this relatively small amount of money into the agencies and the the school districts it will prevent layoffs. Without this, you will just about have to have layoffs.”
Senators supporting the governor’s override said another bill could be passed, using the $14 million recently received from Medicaid, to provide Corrections additional money if that is a concern of the governor’s.
But they said it did not make sense not to pass the bill the governor vetoed since it addressed immediate needs in education and other state agencies.
Plus, considering the pool of money available to spend this year, Brown pointed out that funds provided to Corrections would have to come from education.
“I am willing to compromise, but I am not inclined to spend $16 million on Corrections,” Brown said. “Every dollar put in Corrections (from the funds available for this year) comes out of education.”
Barbour was working to ensure his veto was not overridden. He had a meeting scheduled with senators at the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday night. He also met with senators Tuesday.
It would be up to the Senate to take up the veto first. It takes a two-thirds majority of both chambers to override a veto. Barbour has never been overridden.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.