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Bryan provides glimpse of budget battle lines

April 5th, 2010 12 comments

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, was today’s keynote at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.

His opening remark? “I disagree with Gov. Barbour’s approach to the budget.”

While that isn’t a surprise — Democrats in the Legislature have rarely agreed with the Republican governor about anything — what he said in the ensuing half hour does offer a preview of what the talking points will be once lawmakers reconvene April 20 to craft a budget for fiscal year 2011.

As they have the past few budget-crafting sessions, education and Medicaid will dominate the proceedings.

Bryan rattled off a list of cash reserves — the Rainy Day Fund, Health Care Trust Fund and some discretionary stimulus money at Barbour’s disposal — and said all those reserves totaled up to $750 million.

“With all of that available, we do not need to have the devastating budget cuts,” Bryan said, referring to Barbour’s  cutting roughly $500 million out of the FY2010 budget due to plunging revenue collections.

Education, Bryan said, should receive every penny possible.

“All of us understand that public education is going to be underfunded even in the best of times. (But) there has never been a year that will be as desperate as next year will be for public schools.”

Bryan said the last round of cuts Barbour made, which resulted in Medicaid reimbursements to providers being reduced, was a “completely unnecessary disruption of the system.”

So there’s the preview. The full-length feature film starts in two weeks.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics, State revenue Tags:

District at Eastover hits another snag

April 2nd, 2010 2 comments

We’ve been following the District at Eastover, a mixed-use project Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to build on the site of the Old Blind School, for six months now.

To be honest, the project seems cursed. Duckworth and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann reached an impasse late last year in their negotiations to hammer out a lease deal. Then, the Legislature tweaked the legislation governing the parameters of the project to allow the state to sell the land instead of lease it. Duckworth said at the time that he couldn’t pursue the project unless he could buy the land.

So things finally started looking like they were gathering momentum until yesterday afterrnoon, when Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the bill allowing the sale of the land.

“Without the authority to lease the property, the bill would have essentially required the sale of the property at a time when commercial property prices are at historic lows,” Barbour said in his veto message.

Barbour also wants a provision inserted into the bill that would give the state the option of leasing the land, instead of allowing it only to sell it. He also took issue with the clause that would have given the state the right to buy back the land after 10  years if conditions of the development had not been met. “But the bill did not specify the purchase price,” Barbour said. “It is not clear to me whether the repurchase price would account for any improvements made to the property, which would certainly deter potential buyers and lenders alike from investing and developing this property,” Barbour continued.

On the bright side, Barbour said in his veto message that he would include revamped legislation in a special session, if necessary, when the Legislature returns April 20 to finalize a budget for fiscal year 2011.

When this project first hit our radar last fall, it seemed like a win-win. The Old Blind school sits in the middle of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state — Eastover — and is not generating any revenue. Because of that, Magnolia Marketplace was convinced a deal would emerge quickly. But valuable land is still being wasted. Maybe there’s still some political paranoia over the state entering into an agreement — whether it’s a lease or sell — with a private party after the disaster of the beef plant. What is certain is the state has a chance to get a much bigger return off the land than what it’s getting now, which is nothing.

This makes entirely too much sense not to get done.

MC to host automotive symposium

March 31st, 2010 34 comments

Mississippi’s automotive industry has had quite a bit of news recently. Toyota is still navigating the recall mess, and Nissan just affirmed plans to start producing light commercial vehicles at its facility in Canton, starting this fall.

Those two topics — and the future of Toyota’s Blue Springs facility — will likely be front and center April 16 at the Mississippi College School of Law in Downtown Jackson. The school will hold an automotive symposium from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Student Center.

Some familiar names and faces are scheduled to appear. They include Gov. Haley Barbour; David Copenhaver, vice president of Toyota Manufacturing, Mississippi; Jim Barksdale; Paul Johnson, director of the Toyota project at the Mississippi Development Authority; and Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson.

J. Larry Lee, professor of law at MC, will moderate the event.

According to a press release from the school, the symposium and its participants will “assess the risks and opportunities that will define the future of the automotive industry,” a sector government and economic development officials hope will be a significant part of the Mississippi’s economy moving forward.

Mark your calendar. It’s pretty rare to get a group like this in the same room, so there should be some pretty interesting conversation.


Everybody’s working for the weekend

March 26th, 2010 1 comment

Loverboy probably didn’t have the Mississippi Legislature on their minds when the band was performing their ’80s rock anthem, “Working for the Weekend.”

But that’s exactly what lawmakers will spend their weekend doing, now that the House and Senate have agreed to suspend the session until late April. Before that happens, bond bills and other deadline-restricted legislation has to clear, hence the extended work week.

The weekend workout at the Capitol is just one of the two hot political stories that will unfold over the next few days. Gov. Haley Barbour and Attorney General Jim Hood are currently in a stare-down over Barbour’s desire to join the 14 other states in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the healthcare reform legislation President Obama signed earlier this week.

Hood told Barbour yesterday that he has to study the issues of the case a little further before he makes a decision about moving forward — or not moving forward — with the litigation. Barbour has plans to hire outside counsel to do it for him if Hood continues to balk. The two  have tied up in the past, and neither are much of a mind to blink, so this could get really good really fast. A lot of conservative Democrats — including Mississippi’s Travis Childers — voted against the healthcare legislation, so it’s not necessarily a slam dunk that Hood will refuse to participate in the lawsuit. On the other hand, Hood could just be stalling in the name of further study while he weighs his options. Throw in the fact that Hood has already said that Barbour is legally barred from filing the complaint on his own, and there’s a political brawl just waiting to happen. It’ll all shake out soon.

Until then, have a rocking weekend.

Categories: Haley Barbour, Jim Hood, News, Politics Tags:

Legislature to adjourn this week minus a budget? And what about those new Nissans?

March 22nd, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has been making the rounds of the Capitol sources this morning, and we’ve got an interesting nugget to pass along: There are strong expectations that the Legislature will adjourn this week without a budget.

Reason being: The state still needs more information from the federal government regarding Medicaid, and how the state will have to adjust to the new FMAP rules. So the plan is to send lawmakers home while all that is ironed out. Once it is, the Legislature will gavel back into session and hammer out a spending plan for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1.

The same thing last session kept lawmakers at the Capitol literally until the 11th hour. A budget deal wasn’t reached until minutes before the new fiscal year started. There was a significant hue and cry earlier this session to make sure that didn’t happen again. A giant leap toward a repeat of last year appears ready to happen, though.

Dan Turner, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, would not confirm the rumors but did say such a move “wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.”

So stay tuned on that front.

Shifting gears, Nissan will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to provide an update to its $118 million expansion and restructuring that will make way for production of light commercial vehicles. The LCVs are scheduled to hit the market this fall, once the 2011 model year starts. Magnolia Marketplace wrote a story about this very thing two weeks ago, and the company said then that everything was on track. Wednesday should fill in some of the gaps. We’ll have the particulars once it’s over.

The broken budget record is still spinning

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour announced today that an additional $41 million was disappearing from the state’s budget for fiscal year 2010 because of spiraling state revenue collections.

Since the budget year started last July, $499.1 million has been cut.

“Hopefully we’re making the last cuts of the year,” Barbour said.

The latest round of cuts comes just a few hours after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee lowered  the revenue estimate for FY2010 and FY2011. FY10’s figure was reduced to $4.43 billion, and FY2011 was set at $4.45 billion.

Barbour said he was “skeptical” revenue in FY2011 would reach $4.45 billion. Legislators are crafting that plan now.

Barbour signaled his opposition to any budget that comes to him from the Legislature that would waive the stipulation, commonly called the “2 percent rule,” that sets aside 2 percent of appropriations for the rainy day fund. Legislation that violates the 2 percent rule, Barbour said, can expect his veto.

Aside from the state’s dismal fiscal situation, Barbour touched on a few other topics. Among them:

• The healthcare bill President Obama hopes to pass this week would be “very bad for Mississippi,” he said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to pass the bill without a vote wasn’t very popular with Barbour, either. “That’s mind-boggling to me,” he said.

• He urged the House to pass the reauthorization for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. If the agency is reauthorized by June 30, those currently drawing unemployment will no longer do so. Barbour dropped strong hints that he would call a special session if lawmakers end the regular session without reauthorizing the agency.

• We asked Barbour what was next for The Aerospace Alliance, a four-state consortium that seeks to expand the Gulf South’s aerospace industry, which suffered its first big loss last week when Northrop Grumman/EADS pulled out of the KC-X Tanker program. He said some pretty interesting things, which we’ll chronicle in a story in next week’s MBJ.

Bryant: Barbour’s veto will be sustained

February 24th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour earlier today vetoed Senate Bill 2688, a bill that would have restored money to some agencies after budget cuts, because he said in a press release that “it spent too much of the state’s reserves and ineffectively divided funds among several agencies. This legislation would virtually guarantee higher taxes within a few years,” Barbour said of the bill’s use of one-time money to fund recurring expenses .

Specifically, Barbour said the bill spent too much of the Health Care Trust Fund and the state’s rainy day fund to fill some of the gaps left by budget cuts, which have totaled more than $400 million since the fiscal year started last July.

Barbour had signaled his intentions to veto the bill almost from the moment it cleared both chambers of the Capitol about a week ago. There had been some strong indications that Barbour’s perfect veto record would acquire its first blemish once the legislation headed back to the House and Senate.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, in a statement released about 10 minutes ago, doused cold water on that notion.

“It is my intent to sustain the Governor’s veto and immediately move on SB 2495,” Bryant said. “This bipartisan compromise allocates nearly $40 million to restore cuts made to education. It also places a total of $16 million, including $14 million that we did not anticipate receiving, to the Department of Corrections. In all, SB 2495 restores $82 million of cuts made to state agencies for FY 10. I will continue to work with the Governor and the House leadership to reach a fair and reasonable solution without compromising the state’s savings account.”

Obviously, if enough senators vote to override Barbour’s veto, Bryant’s plan will fail. With the House all but certain to override Barbour’s veto, it will be up to Bryant to muster enough votes in the Senate to sustain it.

Barbour’s undefeated veto record has come close to entering the realm of political legend. Magnolia Marketplace will never forget Barbour’s veto last session of a bill that would have eliminated the use of eminent domain for economic development projects. The bill originally cleared the Senate 52-0. His veto was sustained with a handful of votes to spare.

“That’s the damndest thing,” said Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute, shortly afterward the Senate sustained the veto.

It sure was.

Barbour does nothing to quiet presidential speculation

February 22nd, 2010 No comments

We reported last week that Gov. Haley Barbour has a big fundraiser coming up Sunday after next whose price tag would suggest it’s going to be used to fund a very expensive race.

This weekend’s meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington did nothing to slow down the rumor mill. Barbour told the Associated Press he had still made no firm plans one way or the other about running for the White House but did say, “If you see me losing 40 pounds that means I’m either running or have cancer.”

Magnolia Marketplace believes Barbour when he says he is focusing on this fall’s midterm elections and the next wave of gubernatorial races and not giving much serious thought — yet — to a presidential run. We also believe, though we have nothing to confirm it, that Barbour really, really, really wants to run for president, and he thinks he would have a good shot at winning if he did.

As for whether he will, it’s just too early to hazard a guess. By year’s end, though, it most likely will be pretty clear if he is or isn’t.

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

For Barbour, fundraisin’ is racin’

February 18th, 2010 9 comments

An interesting piece  of paper made its way to the desk of Magnolia Marketplace late yesterday afternoon.

It’s a flier announcing a fundraiser for Haley’s Leadership PAC, a political action committee formed by Gov. Haley Barbour. And this isn’t just any fundraiser. To go with a pile of cash, participants better have nerves of steel.

For a minimum gift of $5,000 you can hop in a stock car and take a few laps around Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Barbour on Sunday, March 7. After that, you can rub elbows at a cocktail party with Barbour and casino and resort mogul Steve Wynn.

Obviously, politicians at every level hold all sorts of fundraisers pretty much all the time. But a minimum gift of $5,000 is enough to make reasonable folks wonder if that kind of heavy financial weight might be targeted toward a national race — you know, like the one whose winner gets to live in the White House.

So we called Dan Turner, Barbour’s press secretary, and asked him.

Nothing’s changed regarding Barbour’s plans for 2012, Turner said a few minutes ago. Barbour is concentrating on the midterm elections this fall, in which Republicans think there’s a decent chance they can take one or both of the chambers of Congress, and the few dozen governor’s races that will go down between now and 2012. That’s been Barbour’s response to every one of the million different ways he’s been asked if he’s running for president.

“That’s all I’ve ever heard him say,” Turner said.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your speculation.

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

FY2010 budget cut — again

February 5th, 2010 No comments

Another Friday, another round of budget cuts.

Exactly two weeks after he cut the fiscal year 2010 budget for the third time, Gov. Haley Barbour cut it again this afternoon.

Today’s trim takes $21 million out of appropriated revenues, bringing the total cuts for FY2010 up to $458.5 million.

January was the 17th consecutive month that revenues had fallen short of projections, and Barbour said this afternoon that today’s cuts were “optimistic,” and that it was almost guaranteed  more would be necessary.

After exemptions, which include debt service, court-ordered settlements and — as of early this week, due to an interpretation of the State Constitution — the Supreme Court, FY2010’s revenue has been reduced by 8.664 percent.

Barbour has come under fire for his handling of the budget, particularly from Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives for his refusal to tap into the state’s rainy day fund.

Barbour said of the three revenue estimation models his office uses in deciding how much to cut, he has used the model that calls for cutting the least amount of money, which has forced him to make additional cuts once monthly revenue collections come up short, like they have for the past year and a half .

“If there’s a criticism, it’s that we’re not cutting enough,” Barbour said.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics, State revenue Tags: