Subcommittee drama saved MAEP

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – In the 1990s, then-House Appropriations Chair Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, arguably the last of the white Delta power structure that controlled the Legislature for so long, had what was called a general bill subcommittee.
Capps would not throw visitors out of the subcommittee meetings, but the trick was to know when the panel met. He did not announce the meetings on the House floor as was and is done with other committee and subcommittee meetings.
Capps would say he used the subcommittee as a clearinghouse to ensure legislation the state could not afford did not become law. Others argued that the subcommittee was where good legislation was sent to die.
Sometime in March or April of 1997, then-Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, in shirtsleeves, strolled to the House side of the Capitol and walked in to a meeting of Capps’ general bill subcommittee. It’s almost unheard of for the presiding officer of one chamber of the Legislature to meet with a subcommittee of the other house.
Yet here was Musgrove strolling comfortably into the subcommittee meeting where he greeted members, joked with “Chairman Capps” and proceeded to explain and advocate for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
Earlier in the session, Musgrove’s Senate had passed the MAEP legislation that would revolutionize the funding of local school districts by giving all of them a funding boost, but by providing more state support to property-poor districts.
After Musgrove explained the formula, he left. Then-House Education Chair Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, a member of Capps’ general bill subcommittee, gave his own presentation where he stopped just short of begging for passage of MAEP.
When McCoy finished, then-Rep. Bobby Moody, D-Louisville, like McCoy a key ally of then-Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, who would later be McCoy’s primary opponent to replace Ford as speaker, asked if he really thought passing the bill was the right thing to do. McCoy simply said yes.
Moody cast the deciding vote in favor of passage. Former Oxford Rep. Ed Perry also was a yes vote in the subcommittee.
MAEP had cleared a major hurdle, and went on to become law over the veto of then-Gov. Kirk Fordice.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com