|June 15, 2009||McCoy insists on open budget negotiations||no comments|
|June 09, 2009||Senate Republicans let off hook on special session||1 comments|
|June 03, 2009||Late night at Capitol||2 comments|
|June 02, 2009||Legislature likely heading to more expensive special session||no comments|
JACKSON -- After several days of meeting primarily behind closed doors, House and Senate budget negotiators since Friday have been doing business in open session.
The difference appears to be that on Friday morning, House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, sent out a news release announcing the budget leaders were meeting and news organizations were welcomed to cover the session.
Since that news release, all the meetings have been open to the media. The meetings, though, have been held in the cramped office of Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, though, instead of the many spacious and unused committee rooms at the state Capitol.
On Friday, just the news media ventured into the meetings. But on Monday, lobbyists also began coming in or standing in the doorway trying to ascertain what was being said.
McCoy has long been an advocate of open conference meetings where negotiations are conducted to iron out the differences in legislation between the two chambers. Even back in the mid 1990s, when there was no legislative rule requiring the conference committees to meet in the open, as there is now, McCoy as chair of the House Education Committee, and then-Senate Education Committee Chair Ronnie Musgrove conducted their conference committee meetings in the open.
If McCoy had not put his foot down Friday, no doubt, the negotiations still would be ongoing in closed session on trying to agree on a budget to fund state government starting July 1, which is rapidly approaching.
JACKSON -- When taking questions on the Senate floor late at night last week before the 2009 session ended without a budget agreement, Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, would not say whether he would rather stay in regular session to work on a budget or go into special session.
Nunnelee did not have to say. Most House Republicans voted not to suspend the rules to continue the regular session.
Since the rules suspension did not get the required two-thirds majority in the House, Nunnelee and his Senate colleagues were never forced to vote on the issue. Resolutions to extend the session must originate in the House.
In special session, members receive an extra $75 per day. Multiply $75 by 174 members and it is obvious special sessions cost about $13,000 per day more than a regular session.
Republicans in the House were willing to charge taxpayers an extra $13,000 per day to go into special where Gov. Haley Barbour will be able to set the agenda.
House Republicans were willing to do that. Senate Republicans never had to take a stand, thanks to their House brethren.
JACKSON -- It could be a long night at the Mississippi Capitol.
The 2009 legislative session is scheduled to end at midnight Wednesday. It is certain that by midnight there will not be a budget passed to fund state government for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
There could be a budget agreement hashed out by the leadership by midnight. After not talking for two days, House and Senate budget leaders started negotiating again, starting Wednesday afternoon.
Early on Wednesday, the House leadership tried to garner the two-thirds majority to extend the session. They got 71 votes, but needed 78. Most Republicans voted against extending the session.
If the session is not extended, that means the work done earlier this year to provide money to local governments to hold down the cost of car tags will die. It would have to be taken up again in special session.
If a budget agreement is reached, the House leaders could try again to extend the session. If the session is not extended, and the Legislature goes into special session, the 174 members will receive an extra $75 per day from the taxpayers.
JACKSON -- At midnight Wednesday, it is likely that the Mississippi Legislature will by not extending the 2009 session get an additional $20,000 or so per day from the taxpayers.
More than likely the 2009 session will end Wednesday night without the Legislature passing a budget to fund state government. Gov. Haley Barbour will have to call a special session where legislators hopefully will reach a budget agreement before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
A special session costs roughly $20,000 more per day -- almost double what it is costing taxpayers for legislators to remain in regular session. By a two-thirds vote of both chambers, the Legislature could remain in regular session.
But it is likely some key Republicans will block that effort because they believe a special session will give their fellow Republican governor more control of the process. Perhaps it will, but ultimately it will be up to the Legislature to pass a budget, and the governor has limited control of that -- even in special session. Yes, Barbour can demand they take up legislation to increase a tax on hospitals before they take up the budget.
But if they don't pass the tax increase he wants, would he be willing to let the clock run out and state government go unfunded?.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, one of the negotiators, says he probably will favor going into special session. He also said the Senate members might vote not to accept their special session pay in an effort to save taxpayer money.
Some might. But all won't. Plus, there are expenses other than direct legislative pay that make the special session more expensive.There is the simple fact that in special session legislators will have to start the budgeting process from scratch. That will take more time. Time means money. Members are paid for each day they are in Jackson during special session.
But don't worry. We are only talking about thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.
No big deal.