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Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood

Hood: Legislative leadership too focused on social issues, tax cuts

By BOBBY HARRISON

Hood, Mississippi’s sole statewide elected Democrat, reiterated that 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 they (legislators) can hobble through to save face to get to January…and come in and fix it.”

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 consideration,” children in college that 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. But this is the kind of train wreck you have when you don’t have people involved,” he said, saying a few legislators are controlling the process.

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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