BOBBY HARRISON: Barbour can delay and still not get his way on the budget

JACKSON – For six years in regular legislative sessions and in special sessions, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has exerted as much or more influence on the Legislature than any other governor in the history of Mississippi.
Yet Barbour is thus far unwilling to call a special session to try to exert that influence at a critical juncture for Mississippi, a time that the state faces the possibility of a new fiscal year beginning July 1 with no budget passed to fund everything from prison guards, to schools, to health care to road construction.
Barbour insists he will not call a special session until legislative leaders remove a provision from a tentative budget agreement that would prevent him from making cuts to some Medicaid health care providers, including hospitals, nursing homes and doctors.
The governor says he needs to maintain that authority to cut to ensure that Medicaid spending does not get out of control.
The governor seems especially distraught that hospitals are protected from cuts. But the Senate and House leaders who crafted the compromise said they believe hospitals deserve some protection since their taxes would be increased at least $60 million to help fund the new budget.
The governor wants that provision removed, he says, before he will call a special session to fund state government.
But even if the House and Senate negotiators give Barbour everything he wants, that does not mean that is what the full Legislature will pass in a special session.
By the same token, if the governor agrees to everything in the House-Senate agreement, that does not mean it will be passed by the full Legislature.
Once the Legislature is in special session, it can change the agreement anyway it wants.
There are no guarantees in the legislative process.
But with his influence among Republican members of the Legislature and with his communication skills and power of persuasion, it seems that Barbour would have decent chance of prevailing on Medicaid in a special session – better than a puncher’s chance.
In past instances, the governor has had a great deal of success in getting his programs and proposals through the Legislature.
Even if the governor’s proposals do not prevail in the special session, he always has the option to veto the legislation. Remember, he has never had a veto overridden.
And if both chambers cannot garner the hard-to-obtain two-thirds majority to override the governor, House and Senate leaders must start over on the Medicaid issue, knowing they must pass something the governor will accept.
That is the way the process is supposed to work.
Instead of letting the process operate in its normal manner, though, Barbour is saying he will not call a special session until he gets a promise from the legislative leaders – a promise that they may not be able to deliver on with the full Legislature, even if they are willing to make it.
It is almost as if Barbour is afraid to take his proposal to the full Legislature without support of the leadership. That hasn’t happened before.
Meanwhile, by not calling a special session, Barbour is holding up a vote on the rest of the budget where there seems to be agreement by all sides – an agreement that includes funding for education, transportation, prisons and other critical services.

Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Bobby Harrison at bharrison@djournal.com or at (601) 353-3119.

NEMS Daily Journal