Legislature back, but no budget proposal

JACKSON – The 174 members of the Mississippi Legislature will resume the 2009 session this afternoon at a cost of almost $19,000 per day.
When they arrive, they likely will spend time waitin for House and Senate negotiators to craft a budget agreement.
The Legislature went on its second extended recess of 2009 earlier this month while negotiators from each chamber worked on a budget proposal. They were supposed to return today and then vote on a budget agreement.
But as of late Monday, there was no agreement. If the negotiators reach an agreement this morning, which is far from likely, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said it still would take staff more than a day to get the proposal ready for a vote by the full Legislature.
Saving money
When the Legislature is in session, the 174 members draw $109 daily, or nearly $19,000 total, for expenses. The House and Senate leaders were trying to save money by sending the members home while the negotiators worked on a budget agreement.
It was not clear Monday whether the members would be sent home again. But what is certain is that the new budget year begins July 1, leaving legislators little time to reach an accord
“I don’t know,” one of the negotiators, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said late Monday when asked if legislators would have anything to do when they get back.
He said the negotiators would exchange budget proposals today.
“At that point,” he said, “we will have to make a decision.”
On Friday, negotiators talked as if they were going to meet during the holiday weekend. They even joked of grilling at the Capitol on Memorial Day.
But they did not meet, for reasons that also a point of contention.
Stringer said he and the other House negotiators called Senate offices Friday afternoon, saying they were ready to talk about new budget proposals each side was supposed to be developing.
Stringer said that about 5:30 p.m. Friday, he received a call from Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate. Stringer said Bryant told him that Nunnelee, his primary negotiator, would not be back until Tuesday morning.
“I don’t guess Alan has ever worked any people,” Stringer said. “We should have worked this weekend. We’re talking about losing money by not working because the Legislature is coming back Tuesday.”
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, another House negotiator, said, “We were ready to work all weekend…I think it is inexcusable that we did not. We have 174 members coming in Tuesday expecting to vote on a budget.”
But Nunnelee said he was in Jackson this past weekend wiling to work. He said he did not return to Tupelo until Sunday afternoon. He also said he was at the Capitol until 5 p.m. Friday, so why Stringer could not reach him is not clear.
Nunnelee said he did not know anything about Bryant’s phone call.
When asked if the lieutenant governor’s office made a phone call to Stringer, Mick Bullock, a spokesman for Bryant, said, “I would touch base with Sen. Nunnelee. I can’t confirm that.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.


Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

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