Regular session ends with no budget

JACKSON – The 2009 session of the Mississippi Legislature ended at midnight Wednesday without a budget to fund all of state government, including law enforcement and education.
Both chambers remained in session sporadically throughout the day until midnight.
It now will be up to Gov. Haley Barbour to call the Legislature back in a more expensive special session to work on a budget to keep government from shutting down on July 1.
Three times on Wednesday the Democratic leadership of the House tried to pass a resolution, requiring a two-thirds vote of both chambers, to extend the regular session. Each time, the House leaders garnered a substantial majority, but not the required two-thirds majority. Late Wednesday, the extension resolution garnered 72 votes, needing 76.
Republicans in both the House and Senate said they opposed extending the regular session unless a budget agreement could be reached. They said a special session would give negotiators a chance to start over after about 60 days of deadlock, and it also would give the Republican Barbour more control of the agenda.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said a special session would not change the dynamics of the disagreement, but would cost the state more money — about $13,000-per-day more, plus it would take four, costly legislative days to pass bills to get to the point where they are now in the process.
Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, said he voted against extending the session to try to force the negotiators to reach an agreement, plus he said “my people are tired of extending, extending, extending” the regular session.
Rep. Noal Akins, R-Oxford, said, who also voted not to extend the session, said, “We’re been doing this for six months. Do we need two more months? We really, and I am including myself, have not done our jobs.
“It’s a lack of leadership on the speaker, lieutenant governor and the governor and all the members.”
Facing the likelihood the session would conclude at midnight if an agreement was not reached, House and Senate negotiators met several times, mostly behind closed doors. At one point word filtered out that an agreement was near, but as the night wore on that optimism faded. Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said the governor killed any chance of a compromise.
“It is my understanding the Senate offered a proposal and the House accepted it,” Flaggs said. “But then the Senate leaders took that offer to the governor and he rejected it. The Senate then reneged on its offer.
“That leads me to believe the governor wants a special session because of his unwillingness to compromise.”
Lead Senate negotiator Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupeo, said that was not true.
The differences remained the same Wednesday. The Senate, with the governor’s blessing, wants to save $60 million for the 2010 session. Nunnelee and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, said the budget situation would be even more dire next year than it is now and the saved money would help ease the situation.
Nunnelee said, “I don’t think it is responsible to spend everything…and go on down the road and act like a problem does not exist.”
But Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said the House did not want to spend everything.
“The House has presented a balanced budget for weeks,” McCoy said. “Today, we find that the Senate proposal is under funded. We’re deadlocked over trying to put aside $60 million for the future even though we already have almost three quarters of a billion in surplus.”
With the unwillingness of the Republicans to extend the session, the Legislature’s plan to provide local governments money to keep car tags from going up across the state also died. A spokesman for Barbour said the governor would include the car tag issue in any special session.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

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