University merger dies in state Legislature

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The most controversial part of Gov. Haley Barbour’s legislative agenda – the merging of universities – died a quiet and not unexpected death Tuesday.
The proposal was not taken up in committee in either chamber of the Legislature. Tuesday was the deadline for bills to be passed out of committee in the chamber where they originated.
Normally it is not safe to say an issue is dead for the session because of various methods of getting around the committee process, such as amending legislation on the floor of either chamber.
But both the House and Senate Universities and Colleges committees chairs said Tuesday they do not see a mechanism to revive the merger proposal during the 2010 session.
In November, to deal with the state’s budget crunch, Barbour had proposed merging Mississippi University for Women in Columbus with nearby Mississippi State and placing the three historically black universities – Mississippi Valley, Alcorn and Jackson State – all under the JSU umbrella.
In the House, Universities and College Committee Chair Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, said early on he would not consider legislation to merge universities.
On Tuesday, his Senate counterpart, Doug Davis, R-Hernando, said he did not bring up the legislation in his committee because “as of right now at this time, I don’t think the votes are there to pass it.”
The other most notable proposal Barbour made in November called for consolidation of 152 school districts into 100. But the governor has formed a commission to study the issue and to make a recommendation in early April.
On other budget-cutting proposals Barbour made in November, he has met with varying degrees of success:
n No legislation was filed to close mental health hospitals, though that could be done later in the session through the appropriations process. But most observers agree the Legislature has little appetite for closing mental health facilities.
Dan Turner, a spokesman for Barbour, said, “From the very beginning, Gov. Barbour said his way was not the only way. If the Legislature produces a budget that is fiscally responsible and uses real dollars, that is something we can work with.”
n Barbour’s proposal to strip state employees of civil service protection already has passed the Senate. The bill has made it that far before, only to die in the House.
n A recommendation to transfer 40 enforcement officers at the Department of Transportation to the Department of Public Safety was killed Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
n Still alive are his plans to privatize the distribution of wine to retailers, to move the School for the Arts from Brookhaven to the campus of the Math and Science School at Columbus, and to consolidate various state functions, such as the awarding of contracts, into one agency.
n His proposal to place the Department of Banking and Consumer Finance in the Secretary of State’s office also died Tuesday.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.