BOBBY HARRISON:Differences, cordiality mark adjournment

JACKSON – The 2008 legislative session ended last week with some key issues left unresolved – the re-authorization of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security and the full funding of the Division of Medicaid to name two.

Both the Employment Security and the Medicaid budget revolved around issues where there are intense partisan differences.

Yet, unlike recent past sessions, nobody left the Capitol screaming and hollering, blaming one side or the other for the inability for the Legislature to get its work done in the regular session.

Instead, Gov. Haley Barbour, the Republican leadership of the Senate and the Democratic leadership of the House offered general praise for the other side for what was accomplished during the 102-day session and acknowledged that it would take a special session to complete the work.

The Democratic-led House wants to use the bill reauthorizing Employment Security to put language in state law requiring a process to ensure efficiency in the spending of state money for advertising contracts. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant complained about the House putting language into a bill changing the meaning of the legislation, but admitted in the next breath that his Senate might have been guilty of doing the same thing.

The Senate was guilty, by the way.

After the session ended, Bryant went to the House and spoke to Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. They had a cordial conversation praising each other.

A day before the session ended, Barbour met with members of the media to talk about the session. While he complained about some of the action of the House, he started the conversation by praising the Legislature and the session.

Sure, the Legislature should have completed its work within the regular session. But the state has a bona fide two-party system. There are tough issues with diverse views and no easy answers.

The House wants to use a cigarette tax hike to plug the Medicaid shortfall. Bryant and Barbour do not want to take up a cigarette tax until Barbour's tax study commission finishes its work later this year.

Barbour wants a gross revenue assessment on hospitals to fund Medicaid. The hospitals bitterly opposed that proposal. Barbour and Bryant have settled on a increase on the hospital bed tax to fully fund Medicaid.

The hospitals seem willing to go along with the bed tax proposal, even those that say they would prefer a cigarette tax hike. All say more work needs to be done on the hospital bed tax proposal before it can be taken up by the Legislature.

If Barbour had been in charge by himself, the hospital gross revenue assessment would have been enacted. If the House had complete control, there would have been a cigarette tax hike.

Because of the divergent views, these are not easy problems to solve. The bottom line is it is easy to fuss and blame the Legislature for the need for a special session. It is easy to fuss about the $60,000 cost of the first day of a special session and the $39,400 cost of each additional day.

But democracy has its costs.

A dictatorship is less expensive, but then, again, it has other built-in costs.

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal's Capitol bureau. Contact him at bobby.harrison@djournal.com, or call (601) 353-3119.