House Democrats blocked efforts Tuesday, during the opening day of the special session, to take up a bill that would allow Bryant to transfer as much money as needed from the rainy day fund to plug the budget holes.
Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, the House Democratic leader, said he had informed the Republican House leadership that Democrats would be willing to take up the legislation on the opening day – but later in the day after getting an update on the state’s chaotic budget situation from state Fiscal Officer Kevin Upchurch and state Revenue Commissioner Ed Morgan.
Instead, he said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and his leadership team opted to adjourn for the day instead of waiting for the Democrats to get their budget update.
“They would rather blame us for staying another day,” said Baria. “They made the decision.”
Gunn said, “That’s hogwash. He is simply trying to avoid responsibility for causing us to come back another day.”
Gunn confirmed that just before the motion to adjourn was made that he received word that Baria had indicated that Democrats might allow the bill to be taken up later in the day. But he said the Democrats had weeks to schedule the meeting to get information from Upchurch and Morgan without waiting until the day of the special session. In addition, the speaker’s office said House rules would not allow the bill to be taken up on the same day once efforts to take up the proposal had been rejected once.
While the House will come back today, the Senate passed the legislation earlier Tuesday by a 33-14 margin and ended the special session on its side.
At issue is that revenue collections are not meeting projections, and Bryant said the special session is needed to give him more authority to transfer funds from the Working Cash Stabilization Fund, commonly called rainy day fund, to plug budget holes.
Current law gives the governor authority to transfer up to $50 million during a fiscal year. He already has transferred $45.2 million and made cuts totaling $60 million because of the revenue shortfall.
The estimate is that another $50 million to $70 million will be needed before the fiscal year ends Thursday.
Gunn, Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said the budget shortfall is not a big deal in a budget of about $6.2 billion.
“The sky is not falling,” Gunn said.
But Democrats contend while they are in special session, the effort should be made to get a better understanding for the confusing budget for the next fiscal year, starting Friday. Questions abound about the effects of stopping the practice of using special funds – normally garnered through fees and assessments – to pay for specific programs and instead using them to help plug holes in the budgets for the upcoming year. Attorney General Jim Hood said because the bill is poorly written, it will not garner as many funds as originally believed, resulting in a larger budget hole for the upcoming budget year.
“I am concerned about the 2017 budget (starting Friday.) I honestly don’t know what is going on, and I don’t think anyone else does either,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.
Various agencies already have announced significant reductions in services.
On the House floor Tuesday, Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, apologized for the transfer bill, saying. “It was my responsibility to be more diligent, and I wasn’t.”
The first day of a special session costs $68,720. It will cost $33,228 for the House to come back another day.
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