By NEMS Daily Journal
The Mississippi House and the Senate Rules Committee have approved a joint legislative rule that would strip from members in both chambers the ability to propose amendments to appropriations bills unless a balancing reduction is made in another apppropriations measure.
That sounds reasonable, but it is more complex. The practical effect of the bill, if enacted as expected by the Senate, would concentrate the power of the purse in the hands of a few people named to conference committees in both chambers and take it away from the people’s representatives and senators in both parties elected from across the state.
The ruse devised to push the measure through is that the rule is necessary to achieve a balanced budget, which is not correct, because Mississippi under state law, not mere legislative rules, cannot have an unbalanced budget.
The net effect is to diminish the standing of every legislator and his of her constituents in favor of a few legislative powerbrokers, a throwback to the eras of dictatorial House speakers and high-handed Senate committee chairmen.
Amending appropriations bills when additional funds become available or when reserves permit changes has been standard practice. Under the new rule, even if constituents, for example, of Lee-Pontotoc counties’ Sen. Nancy Collins were to loudly favor an amendment increasing funding for public education, Collins could not seek the amendment, if she were inclined, unless she could win a reduction some other place.
The same applies to every other legislator in both parties. They (and constituents) become all but irrelevant unless they are members of conference committees, which could change appropriations measures if, for example, a revenue estimate were revised upward during the session.
The rule, if implemented, could have significant impact on education because raising appropriations beyond bare minimums would become virtually impossible.
We agree with Parents Campaign Director Nancy Loome, who said in a release to the organization’s members, “It appears that use of reserve funds could be debated in committee, but this is problematic in that two-thirds of us have no representation on the House Appropriations Committee. That committee is made up of 33 representatives (of 122). Half of the Senate serves on its Appropriations Committee.
“… Changing the rules that govern the way we are represented is very serious, particularly when the proposed change limits the ways in which the legislators … can represent our concerns and priorities.”
The rule is clever but bad for the democratic process.