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AG: State’s leadership not focused on people

Attorney General Jim Hood, not ruling out a campaign for governor in 2019, said Thursday the legislative leadership is focusing on social issues and corporate tax cuts instead of legislation that “will help people.”

Hood, Mississippi’s sole statewide elected Democrat, reiterated he believes the Republican leadership of the Legislature hastily passed the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act, which changes the method of disbursing money to state agencies, to mask a budget hole caused by the multiple tax cuts given in recent years.

Instead, he said the legislation, because it was poorly crafted, has created a budget hole of at least $135 million.

“It has created a lot of confusion,” Hood said Thursday during a luncheon meeting of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps. “…Hopefully (legislators) can hobble through to save face to get to January…and come in and fix it.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, whose leadership team composed the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act, tried to tie Hood and Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton together when asked for a response.

“Jim Hood’s judgment on budget issues is almost as bad his judgment on his choice for president,” said Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp. “Please forgive legislative leadership for not taking advice on how to spend taxpayers’ money from someone who has decided to spend money to nominate Hillary Clinton for president.”

Hood said there are numerous question marks created by the legislation that need to be addressed.

For instance, he said the legislation “sweeps into the general fund” revenue garnered from assessments on traffic tickets and other items for the state’s trauma care system. Because of the sweep, he said the trauma care fund could be depleted before January.

“Some hospitals are afraid that they might have to drop out of the trauma care system,” said Hood.

The Budget Transparency and Simplification Act was supposed to provide additional funds – nearly $190 million – to help offset the budget woes facing the leadership by sweeping into the state general fund the fees and assessments 16 agencies receive to administer specific programs.

The Legislature then said it would provide those agencies general fund revenue to administer those programs. Many agencies said the Legislature did not provide those funds.

Hood said the legislation should have been studied for “unintended consequences” before making such a dramatic change in the state’s budgeting process.

Hood, who still lives in his native Chickasaw County, did not rule out a run for governor when questioned by the media after his speech.

“I don’t know…I will have to cross that bridge when I get to it,” said Hood, saying he had family considerations, such as children in college, he would have to factor into his decision.

But the four-term attorney general spoke of investing in highways and bridges and education to improve a sluggish economy instead of giving tax breaks to corporations.

“I think some in the Legislature know they got duped through this whole process…In the past they would argue about bills in committee and have a process,” he said, saying a few select legislators are controlling the process. “But this is the kind of train wreck you have when you don’t have people involved.”

Hood said he has not decided whether he would be involved in an appeal of a federal court ruling overturning legislation that would allow governmental officials and businesses not to provide services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

While his office defended the legislation, he said many of the things supporters of the bill said it did are not accurate. For instance, he said the legislation is not needed to protect churches or ministers from being forced to be involved in same-sex weddings because under the U.S Constitution they already do not have to be. And in Mississippi, Hood said, there is no law requiring a business operator, such as a cake maker, to provide services for a gay wedding.

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