By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, complained Thursday that a joint legislative rule adopted last year prevents members from spending money without identifying a source of spending, but does not prevent them from giving state revenue away without citing how to offset the lost revenue.
Bryan’s criticism came as the Legislature took up appropriations bills Wednesday and Thursday to fund the various aspects of state government, ranging from education to health care.
Bryan offered an amendment to restore $100 million of the projected $293 million shortfall for kindergarten- through 12th- grade education.
But Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the amendment was not proper because of a rules change pushed through last year by the then-new Republican legislative majority saying the only way a member could add money to one agency is to take it from another.
Not long after that ruling, during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, legislation was taken up to eliminate the tax that manufacturing and agriculture businesses must pay on their purchase of energy during their production process.
The bill would take $7 million out of the general fund. Bryan offered an amendment that would have delayed the enactment of the bill for one year to prevent it from having an immediate impact on the general fund, which state leaders already say is lacking the money needed to pay for all the critical needs.
Bryan’s amendment was defeated.
Bryan questioned the wisdom of having the legislative rules crafted in a way to have “all this weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” when tying to take money out of the general fund to educate children, but not to provide a tax break.
“The level of hypocrisy is a bit much,” he said.
The issue of tax breaks passing at a time when state revenues have not rebounded from the 2008 recession to an extent to fully fund various programs has surfaced previously during the session. House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, earlier voiced concern about the number of tax breaks coming out of the House Ways and Means Committee and being passed by the full chamber.
Frierson said tax breaks passed by the House this session would take at least $50 million from the general fund at a time when the Legislature was short by $174 million in funding all the critical needs identified by the House.
While Reeves, who presides over the Senate, ruled against Bryan’s amendment to increase education funding, he said afterwards he also is concerned about negatively impacting the state general fund.
“Suffice to say the large number of tax credits and tax diversions that have passed in the other chamber have not yet passed in this chamber,” Reeves said.