House rejects transportation budget

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The House voted late Monday night, on deadline, to reject the budget for the Department of Transportation, throwing into doubt funding for the next fiscal year for the agency that builds and maintains highways and other transportation outlets.

Only one member of the 122-member House voted for the nearly $1 billion budget for the Department of Transportation as the Legislature worked late to meet a midnight deadline to pass a state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The session will have to be extended by a two-thirds vote or the governor will have to call a special session to deal with the budget for the Department of Transportation. House leaders seemed confident the issue will be resolved before July 1.

Transportation Chairman Robert Johnson of Natchez, a Democrat, convinced the Republican majority the budget for Transportation should be killed. Johnson said the Senate negotiators insisted that the budget include “three or four special projects for a couple of members in the Senate.” Johnson said that if the senators got projects, taking money away from the overall state highway construction and maintenance effort, then the House members also should be able to include special projects.

House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, did not argue against Johnson’s effort to kill the bill, saying he was going to “leave it to the will of the House.” Both Frierson and Speaker Philip Gunn voted with Johnson.

“I am surprised the House chose to kill the Department of Transportation funding bill hours before the deadline,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides in the Senate. “It is important the Legislature ensures that MDOT is prioritizing projects to meet the transportation needs of our state.”

Democrats in both chambers failed in their effort to force more funding for public education. Democrats complained that the additional $10 million given to local school districts, not counting about $65 million for a $1,500 teacher pay raise, did little to make up for the $1.2 billion the local school districts have been underfunded since 2008.

The more than 100 bills that fund state government, other than Transportation, were passed before the midnight deadline.

In the coming days, legislators will have other key issues to address, such as the size of a teacher raise past the upcoming budget year, whether to provide some parents of special needs children a $6,000 subsidy and a bill stating that the government cannot infringe on someone’s religious freedom.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com