Hood, McCoy sue to stop veto of trooper pay

JACKSON – House Speaker Billy McCoy has joined Attorney General Jim Hood in a lawsuit challenging Gov. Haley Barbour’s partial veto of a measure setting aside money for overtime pay for state troopers and other Public Safety employees.
Hood said it’s the Legislature’s role to specify how and for what state funds are spent.
“The governor can’t just go in and say I will take the money, but you can’t tell me what to spend it on. It is pretty simple,” Hood said Tuesday afternoon. The lawsuit was filed late Monday by Hood; McCoy, a Democrat from Rienzi; and House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose.
The lawsuit, filed in Hinds County Chancery Court, is asking that the partial veto be declared “null, void and unenforceable” and that the governor be stopped from spending “the funds in any manner he sees fit rather than how the Legislature directed the funds to be spent.”
In late June, the governor partially vetoed the section of the Department of Public Safety budget that provided $2.9 million for overtime pay for troopers. He said he was doing so because the appropriation “severely restricts management authority within the Department of Public Safety” and could result in “forced cuts in other critical areas of the agency.”
A spokesperson for the troopers has said the other areas of the agency were fully funded.
In his veto message, Barbour also said the Legislature’s appropriation for overtime pay infringed on the authority of the executive branch to manage the agency.
Hood said the Constitution does provide the governor partial veto authority in certain instances, but added that court rulings since the 1890s have been clear that the governor cannot use that authority to prevent the Legislature from saying where and how funds are to be spent.
To do that, Barbour would have to veto the whole appropriations bill, Hood said.
“This was a measure passed by both chambers,” McCoy said. “We feel very strongly the governor was wrong on the partial veto. That is why we filed the lawsuit.”
The governor’s partial veto authority also is at issue in another case pending in the Hinds County court system. That case deals with a veto of money designated for the Boys and Girls Club in the budget bill for Hood’s office.
Of the lawsuit, Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said that when the issue concerns points of law, “we will make those points in court instead of trying to do it in the media.”
Hood said the issue is almost identical to former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s veto of a section of the Department of Corrections budget that provided funds for private prisons. The courts ruled that partial veto unconstitutional.
Hood said he hopes the case is “expedited. I hope to have some decision before the Legislature comes back to town.”
The Legislature cannot take up the partial veto until the new regular session begins in January
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal