LEGISLATORS HOPE TO STAY CAUGHT UP IN SPIRIT OF COOPERATION
Last in a series
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Legislators are hoping that the spirit of cooperation that has prevailed in recent weeks will continue during the 1996 state Legislature, which convenes at noon today.
While other issues might be receive more notice, state House and Senate members say tight budget restraints and the cooperation being displayed between the two legislative chambers and with the governor’s office are probably the most important issues of 1996.
The session is historic in that it will be the first since 1885 to open with a governor who has been elected to consecutive terms. It also is historic in that the executive (the governor) and the legislative branches have agreed to shorten the session to 97 days instead of the customary 125 days.
“I am real encouraged with the spirit of cooperation that seems to be emerging from the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office and speaker’s office,” said Rep. Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, chairman of the House Education Committee. “I think we have a unique opportunity with the vast amount of experience in the three individuals who occupy these offices. I expect the fact that they have worked together and understand one another to be a really positive thing during the upcoming session and hopefully for the entire four-year period.”
Kirk Fordice, who four years ago was the first Republican governor elected this century, is now the first governor since 1885 elected to consecutive terms. A change in the state Constitution in the 1980s allowed Fordice to succeed himself. Fordice had an often rocky relationship with the Legislature during his first term, but the governor and legislative leaders have appeared more conciliatory in recent weeks.
Those leaders Fordice has been cooperating with are Tim Ford and Ronnie Musgrove.
Rep. Ford, D-Tupelo, is expected to be elected to his third term as speaker of the House. He will preside over the House.
Two-term state senator, Musgrove, D-Batesville, will be the new lieutenant governor. He defeated Republican incumbent Eddie Briggs in the November general election. Musgrove will preside over the Senate.
Because of the experience of Ford, Musgrove and Fordice, the three agreed to shorten the session from the 125 days, which is what is allowed in the state Constitution for the first session after state elections, to 97 days. During the next three years, the sessions will be 90 days.
Pomp and circumstance
The seven extra days are needed because of the pomp and circumstance that will dominate the first week of the session. Today, members of the House will be sworn in by outgoing Secretary of State Dick Molpus. Then the House will go through the formality of electing Ford, who is expected to be unchallenged, to the post of speaker.
On the Senate side, members will be sworn in by outgoing lieutenant governor Briggs.
On Thursday, both House and Senate members will meet in the House chamber where all statewide elected officials, with the exception of the governor, will be sworn in. On Jan. 9, the governor will be inaugurated.
Then the Legislature is expected to get down to serious business. Fordice will be pushing an income tax cut, but both Ford and Musgrove said the tax cut will be difficult to pass because of tight budget restraints.
The budget is tight because in recent sessions the state Legislature has committed $117 millions that must come out of the upcoming budget. These commitments include such items as new prisons and staffing, new mental health facilities and staffing, new fire trucks for rural areas and repairs to rural county bridges.
For the governor’s tax cut to have a chance, he must present a budget proposal that trims state spending while not slashing services. He said his budget, which will be presented later this month, will do just that.
“The biggest issue for the Legislature is always balancing the budget,” Ford said. “It will dominate as no other issue will. There are other issues that will be more controversial, but nothing will be as dominating as the budget because it affects what you can and cannot do about new programs.”