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Reeves: Bond bill has to meet long-term needs, and MDA fund limit needs lowering

January 7th, 2013 No comments

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will support a bond bill that addresses long-term capital needs, charter schools should be allowed to locate wherever parents want them, and the Mississippi Development Authority needs more legislative supervision over how it spends money out of its revolving loan fund.

Reeves touched on those topics and a few others Monday during the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon in Jackson.

The Republican has taken criticism, including from some in his party, since the last legislation session ended without the passage of a bond bill, the first time that’s happened in as long as a lot of legislative veterans can remember.

The first-term lieutenant governor repeated Monday what he’s said for a couple months: He can get behind a bond package “reasonable and rational in size” that pays for long-term capital needs instead of things that should be funded through the normal appropriations process. He listed local system bridge programs, and repairs and HVAC systems for state buildings as things that have historically been bonded, and that are a big reason why the state pays $430 million annually in debt service.

“If it does not meet those criteria, I cannot support” a bond bill, Reeves said.

Reeves also reiterated his support for charter schools in every district where enough parents want to form one. Who can trigger the charter law was a sticking point in last year’s session, with splits forming among those who held views similar to Reeves’, and those who wanted charter schools only in districts rated as unsuccessful or failing.

There will be another bill this session aimed at lowering the ceiling for which the MDA can spend out of its revolving loan fund without legislative approval. Currently, the MDA can spend up to $468 million before having to ask lawmakers’ permission. The fund is used to help economic development prospects with costs related to coming to Mississippi.

Last year, a bill passed the Senate that would have lowered the limit from $468 million to $50 million. It died in the House Ways and Means Committee when chairman Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, did not bring it up for a vote.

“I do not believe the Mississippi Development Authority ought to have $468 million to spend on whatever project they want to spend it on,” Reeve said.

Reeves affirmed his opposition to the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and said there would be no “serious, significant discussion” about it until the federal government clarifies certain rules. Particularly, Reeves said, states who opt out of the Medicaid expansion need to know if disproportionate share payments – made to hospitals that write off the cost of large amounts of treatment to indigent patients – will remain or be eliminated.

The 2013 session gavels to a start Tuesday at noon.

Charter schools, Medicaid expansion hot topics at Jackson stop of Gunn’s Ideas Tour

October 8th, 2012 No comments

Among the most popular suggestions at the Jackson stop of House Speaker Phillip Gunn’s Mississippi Solutions – An Ideas Tour were the need for the state to expand the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and the lack of need for charter schools.

More than 100 people and a handful of legislators joined Gunn at the Capitol to kick off his 9-city, week-long trek across the state to gather ideas and input from citizens about how to move the state forward and improve quality of life.

“We’re trying to bring the Legislature to them,” Gunn, R-Clinton, said.

Out of 16 people who offered their thoughts, three asked Gunn and the lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act. In its June decision upholding the ACA, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the option of expanding their Medicaid programs, but would not incur penalties for not doing so.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said since that expanding Mississippi’s program would be cost-prohibitive because it would add nearly 400,000 people to the rolls. Gunn has promised to examine the issue once the session starts. He reiterated that stance after Monday’s event.

Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, was among the pro-Medicaid expansion crowd, saying refusing to do so could erect barriers to quality healthcare, and increase uncompensated care costs for hospitals. “Some of those hospitals could be forced to close,” Sivak said.

George Schimmel, who sits on the Jackson Public Schools board of trustees but said he was speaking as a citizen, said legislators should be careful when considering charter school legislation to ensure that traditional public schools are not unnecessarily harmed.

“Weakening traditional public schools weakens communities,” he said.

Bryant has said charter school legislation would be near the top of his list of priorities when the 2013 session starts in January. A charter school bill died last session when a group of DeSoto County Republicans coalesced to kill it in committee.

A state’s power to govern itself was the focus of Laura VanOverschelde’s idea. “We’re experiencing a loss in state sovereignty,” said VanOverschelde, the vice president of the Mississippi Tea Party and the organization’s issues chairman. “We’re seeing a federal government that wants to take over the lives of people.” VanOverschelde urged lawmakers to consider legislation that would assert Mississippi’s sovereignty.

Other ideas included state assistance for nonprofits providing financial education to the poor, clarifying statutes governing state control of 16th section land, an increase in the tax on wine, a smoke-free workplace bill, increasing the state retirement age, small business tax reform, and cheaper access to prescription drugs taken to treat multiple sclerosis.

Gunn’s tour was headed to Greenwood and Hernando later Monday. It wraps up Friday in Brookhaven with stops in Tupelo, Columbus, Meridian, Hattiesburg and Biloxi in-between. The full schedule can be viewed here.

Categories: Phil Bryant, Phillip Gunn, Tate Reeves Tags:

Prof.: Supreme Court’s healthcare ruling focuses on law, not politics

June 28th, 2012 No comments

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday to uphold nearly every portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, which said the PPACA’s most controversial part – the individual mandate – was essentially a tax. Justices also ruled that states have the option of declining to participate in an expansion of the Medicaid program without penalty. The mandate and the Medicaid expansion have been at the heart of Republican and conservative opposition to PPACA.

Matt Steffey, professor of law at Jackson’s Mississippi College School of Law, wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s ruling. He said it’s clear justices cast aside three years’ worth of emotional arguments for and against PPACA and concentrated on its legal validity.

“If you take the political rhetoric out of this and just read the statute, it’s a tax saying that people who don’t have health insurance will pay higher taxes than people who do,” Steffey said. “I always thought there was an easy way to uphold (the mandate) as a tax, and the chief justice obviously agreed. Just like the pardon issue here in Mississippi, this is right on the law.”

Joining Roberts were justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Dissenting justices issued a statement in which they said the mandate and the potential denial of state’s Medicaid funding for not participating in PPACA’s expansion of the program was an overreach of federal power.

Steffey said that states can opt out of the Medicaid expansion without losing their federal funding for the program was a “modest victory.” The biggest winner, Steffey said, was Pres. Obama, who made healthcare reform a big part of his campaign in 2008.

Obama won’t be the only political winner, though, Steffey said.

“Honestly, I think this plays out a little bit better for Mitt Romney,” Steffey said. “If they had struck down the law, Obama could have essentially run against the court. Now, it somewhat relieves Gov. Romney of the duty of having to put out a healthcare vision of his own. Politically, this is better for Gov. Romney than striking down the law because it’s an issue that will keep money pouring in and invigorate the base.”

The issue is far from settled. Congress can still make changes to the healthcare law, or repeal it entirely. Republicans were setting the stage for such by mid-morning Thursday.

“Only a full repeal of this overreaching law will allow Americans to receive the care that they need, from the doctors that they choose, at a cost that they can afford,” said Gregg Harper, who represents Mississippi’s Third District.

Closer to home, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement that the court’s ruling “does not change the fact that Obamacare raises taxes on Americans and expands the bureaucracy of our health care system.”

Beer law reform picks up powerful GOP bill author

February 8th, 2012 No comments

In this week’s MBJ I had a story about the beer legislation that has tried and failed the past few legislative sessions. You can read all about it here  (subscriber link).

Bills that would raise the state’s alcohol-by-weight content from 5 percent (lowest in the U.S.) to 8 percent have died in committee at least the last two sessions, as have bills that would allow the state’s only brewery to offer samples of its product to those taking tours of its facility. Bills that would have legalized homebrewing and allowed a brewery to brew illegal beer as long as it’s shipped and sold out of state have also perished. (It’s worth noting that the fact homebrewing is illegal has done nothing to stunt its popularity here).

After my deadline last week, though, came a bill in the Senate authored by Senate President Pro-Tem Terry Brown, R-Columbus, that would legalize homebrewing. Like Rep. Jessica Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, who has introduced beer legislation in the House, Brown’s filing a similar bill is significant.

Because while the bills have enjoyed a modicum of bipartisan support in the past, I can’t remember the GOP jumping on the bill-filing train before now. They may have; I just haven’t confirmed as much. Democrats have traditionally filed and supported the bills the loudest. The committees the bills died in were split among which party controlled them. The GOP now controls the House committee (Ways and Means) and the Senate committee (Finance) in which these bills currently sit.

And that was the gist of this week’s story: Longtime supporters of the beer agenda are more optimistic the legislation’s chances of passage are greater this time, if only because it’s likely lawmakers won’t have to face re-election in November. They may have to if the redistricting process gets squirrely, but it’s unlikely. Election-year politics killed the bills before they were even filed last year.

While it would legalize homebrewing, Brown’s bill does have some limits on the amount one household can brew per year: If there’s only one person over the age of 21 years residing in a single household, that house can brew no more than 100 gallons of beer annually. If there are two or more folks over 21 in one house, that limit rises to 200 gallons per year. The bill would outlaw homebrew being sold, but it would allow it to be exhibited at competitions, tastings, county fairs, etc.

Behind Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Brown is the Senate’s second-most powerful member. So it’s not insignificant that he’s filed this legislation. Upshaw and other Republican supporters of the beer bills have made it into an economic issue by tying it to tourism. How beer legislation in both chambers is handled in committee will be interesting.

Bryant starts his new job reinforcing familiar themes

January 10th, 2012 No comments

Other than anecdotes about his family, there wasn’t much new in Gov. Phil Bryant’s inaugural address.

Like he has for most of the past four years, Bryant used his platform to talk economic issues: job-creation, education, the high cost of teenage pregnancy and his political pet project, performance-based budgeting.

The energy and healthcare industries, Bryant said, are two areas ripe for growth over the next decade-plus. The extraction and processing of natural gas, biofuels and clean coal can – and according to Bryant, will – help the state in its revolution from low-wage industrial haven to modern manufacturing empire.

Offering incentives for the healthcare industry, and bringing 1,000 new physicians to Mississippi by 2025, can turn the state’s metro areas and their medical corridors into burgeoning centers of medical power, Bryant said.

Having a stable of workers to fill those jobs will require a shift in thinking when it comes to public education, he said. Solutions don’t begin and end with funding, but will take redesigning curriculums to better serve students not on a college track, but headed for vocational employment, and a clearer path for charter schools to establish.

“When a Mississippian has a job, it changes absolutely everything,” Bryant said.

Bryant saved his strongest words for the state’s high teenage pregnancy rate, which has become as much of a Mississippi hallmark as the state’s musical and literary heritage.

“It must come to an end,” he said, adding that churches and other religious organizations have to partner with public institutions in reaching that end. “We can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”

Bryant compared the cultural change that would have to happen to do that to the one that has managed to eradicate smoking in nearly every public building and gathering spot in Mississippi, including the Capitol. He noted that a lot of folks 40 years ago would have filled the place with cigarette and cigar smoke during his address.

Obviously, Bryant’s plans will be met with a great deal of resistance in the Capitol, some from within his own party, but mostly from Democrats, who just watched their long-held power and influence all but evaporate.

Bryant’s Smart Budget Act, which bases agency funding on results achieved, is wildly popular with fiscal conservatives, but not with many agency heads, who cite the difficulty in tracking those results, not to mention the ease with which those results can be manipulated.

With a Republican-led Legislature, though, its passage is likely, if not guaranteed. The same goes for Bryant’s education reforms, though it’s worth noting the funding fight is likely to be as spirited as it’s ever been.

The wild card in that notion will be just how badly new legislative leadership – Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – want to return Mississippi’s government to one in which lawmakers hold the majority of power.

Either way, the game is afoot.

Democrats, freshmen dot Reeves’ committee chairs

January 6th, 2012 No comments

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves revealed his committee assignments Friday morning.

There were no major surprises. Democrats will chair 17 of the Senate’s 39 committees. Of those 17, the most powerful are probably Judiciary B, chaired by Hob Bryan; and Highways and Transportation, chaired by Willie Simmons.

Five Senators in their first terms will serve as chairs. Melanie Sojourner, D-Natchez, leads that list as head of the Forestry Committee.

The old Fees and Salaries Committee is now the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, chaired by Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, who is serving her first term.

The old Oil and Gas Committee and the old Public Utilities Committee have been merged, creating the new Energy Committee.

“This was an incredibly difficult task,” Reeves said. Reeves said he wanted to include Democrats for chairmanships to properly reflect the make-up of the Senate and the state. “That hasn’t happened in the past in the other chamber,” he said, referring to former House Speaker Billy McCoy appointing only Democrats to chairmanships.

Here’s the full list of committees, and their chairmen and vice chairmen:

Accountability Efficiency and Transparency

Nancy Collins, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Agriculture

Billy Hudson, Chairman

Russell Jolly, Vice Chairman

Appropriations

Buck Clarke, Chairman

Terry Burton, Vice Chairman

Business and Financial Institutions

Gary Jackson, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Compilation, Revision and Publication

Derrick Simmons, Chairman

Dean Kirby, Vice Chairman

Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Constitution

Michael Watson, Chairman

Will Longwitz, Vice Chairman

Corrections

Sampson Jackson, Chairman

Lydia Chassanoil, Vice Chairman

County Affairs

Nickey Browning, Chairman

Billy Hudson Vice, Chairman

Drug Policy

David Jordan, Chairman

Michael Watson, Vice Chairman

Economic Development

John Horhn, Chairman

Steve Hale Vice, Chairman

Education

Gray Tollison, Chairman

Nancy Collins, Vice Chairman

Elections

Chris McDaniel, Chairman

David Blount, Vice Chairman

Energy

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Enrolled Bills

Alice Harden, Chairman

Kelvin Butler, Vice Chairman

Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources

Tommy Gollott, Chairman

Deborah Dawkins, Vice Chairman

Ethics

Bennie Turner, Chairman

Gary Jackson, Vice Chairman

Executive Contingent Fund

Robert Jackson, Chairman

Gray Tollison, Vice Chairman

Finance

Joey Fillingane, Chairman

Merle Flowers, Vice Chairman

Forestry

Melanie Sojourner, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Highways and Transportation

Willie Simmons, Chairman

Perry Lee, Vice Chairman

Housing

Hillman Frazier, Chairman

Chris Massey, Vice Chairman

Insurance

Videt Carmichael, Chairman

Rita Parks, Vice Chairman

Interstate and Federal Co-op

Kenny Wayne Jones, Chairman

Sampson Jackson, Vice Chairman

Investigate State Offices

Albert Butler, Chairman

Videt Carmichael, Vice Chairman

Judiciary A

Briggs Hopson, Chairman

Bennie Turner, Vice Chairman

Judiciary B

Hob Bryan, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Labor

Kelvin Butler, Chairman

Robert Jackson, Vice Chairman

Legislative Reapportionment and Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Local and Private

Perry Lee, Chairman

Tony Smith, Vice Chairman

Municipalities

J.P. Wilemon, Chairman

Bill Stone, Vice Chairman

Ports and Marine Resources

Brice Wiggins, Chairman

Public Health and Welfare

Dean Kirby, Chairman

Hob Bryan, Vice Chairman

Public Property

David Blount, Chairman

Sally Doty, Vice Chairman

State Library

Deborah Dawkins, Chairman

Albert Butler, Vice Chairman

Tourism

Lydia Chassanoil, Chairman

Sean Tindal, Vice Chairman

Universities and Colleges

Terry Burton, Chairman

John Polk, Vice Chairman

Veterans and Military Affairs

Haskins Montgomery, Chairman

Philip Moran, Vice Chairman

Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

Giles Ward, Chairman

Angela Hill, Vice Chairman

Barbour, business and budgets

January 6th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour will sit down with some of the state’s business leaders Thursday afternoon at 1 to discuss economic development, job creation, what needs to happen in the legislative session to spur each of those things, and the state’s budget.

The meeting is open to the media, so Magnolia Marketplace will be there. We’ll have the details as soon as it wraps.

Also, Treasurer Tate Reeves just issued a press release that deals with the budget, and like every budget item the past few months, the news is less than rosy.

The budget for fiscal year 2011, which lawmakers will adopt before adjourning the session in March (or April or May or June), was already expected to have a deficit exceeding $700 billion. Reeves said today that, because an annual payment from tobacco companies based on tobacco usage nationally is some $8 million less than what it was last year, the deficit will be even larger.

Barbour’s executive budget recommendation and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s plan counted on plugging some of the holes with $115 million from the Health Care Expendable Fund. Problem is, the HCEF got nearly $118 million from tobacco companies last December; this December, the state got only $109.7 million.

So just add that to the pile of things lawmakers will have to work around when dealing with the budget this session. Pretty soon, the pile will be as big (and just as smelly) as one you’d find in a cow pasture.

Hudson Holliday lays out his platform

October 16th, 2009 No comments

First-term Pearl River County District 3 Supervisor Hudson Holliday retired from the Mississippi Army National Guard in 2004 as a one-star general.

His campaign for the Republican nomination for governor is less than a week old, but he’s already bringing a military style to it. It could be summed up in three words.

Ready.

“I feel compelled to do it,” Holliday said.

Aim.

“I really do think that people are fed up with professional politicians,” he continued.

Fire.

“Phil Bryant was a deputy sheriff (before serving in the Legislature and then being appointed to the State Auditor’s office). What does he know? He’s never created the first job. He has never hired anybody. He’s never paid workman’s comp insurance on anybody. He’s never had to deal with withholdings or regulations. Now he’s been in Jackson (for several years). He’s just moved up that political ladder. What does he know about that contractor that’s out there in the mud trying to build a building? He’s never been there.”

Then Holliday reloaded.

“What in the world does Tate Reeves know about what’s going on out in the (rural areas)? He’s a bean counter. Did he ever serve in the military?”

Spokespersons for Bryant and Reeves did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Holliday’s campaign will attempt to draw a contrast between him and Bryant, the lieutenant governor who has said he will seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2011; and Reeves, the Republican state treasurer who has not committed one way or the other as far as 2011 goes but is thought to a strong possibility for the governor’s race.

In about a 22-minute conversation with Magnolia Marketplace this morning, Holliday touted his experience in the small business world. His background is diverse. He has owned and operated a construction company, developed subdivisions as a homebuilder, established a crop-dusting service, farmed and run a timber-cutting business.

He also served as a deputy sheriff under his brother, the former sheriff of Pearl River County.

“There’s not a whole lot that goes on in Mississippi that I don’t understand,” Holliday, 65, said. “I’ll just be honest with you, I’m tired. I’m tired of us leaving our future up to professional politicians that too often, not all of them, are more concerned about their future than they are ours. They’re just looking for the next ladder to climb instead of making hard decisions.”

Holliday said he’s mulled over the idea of running for governor for about six months. He will run as a Republican, he said, but he’s “not proud of either one of the parties. I think they’re the downfall of this country, to tell you the truth. I’m not sure a Democrat could be elected in a governor’s race.

“I believe good government suffers when good people don’t get involved. I’m going to get involved. I’m not going to sit at the house and complain about the way things are when I know I can do something about it.”

Holliday was elected to his current post last year. It was the first time he had jumped into the political arena. He realizes that name recognition and fundraising ability will be major issues against opponents who have plenty of both.

He’s depending on his time in the military to spread the word about his candidacy.

“When I was in the Guard, I had units from Southaven to Pascagoula, from West Point to Vicksburg, all those units reported to me,” Holliday said. “They know who I am. The Guard won’t elect you, but it is a seed source that I can expand to just about every community in this state. I assure you the Guard will be behind me 100 percent. That opens doors for me to come into North Mississippi.”

Magnolia Marketplace was unable to confirm Holliday’s assertion that he is the first sitting county supervisor to seek the governor’s office. He hopes his experience with the ground level of politics will gain him the support of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors.

“That’s the political leaders in every county,” he said. “The majority of supervisors are Democrat. If I could get through the Republican nomination I will pick up a lot of the Democratic supervisors. They realize that I understand the problems that they face.”

The role of governor, Holliday believes, should be built around two things: Developing a vision for the state and providing the leadership to get there. If the state were a group of folks walking through the woods in the dark, he said, the governor should be the one holding a flashlight.

“You’re destined to look where the guy that has the flashlight is shining the light. His job is to lead us out of the woods and onto the highway of prosperity.”

An antique car enthusiast, Holliday is already rebuilding a 1942 International pickup and plans to outfit it with campaign billboards in time to drive it across the state visiting coffee shops, cafes, truck stops and restaurants and community festivals.

“I’m never gonna have the money Phil Bryant and those guys are going to have,” Holliday said. “It’s going to be a battle but I think people are hungry. I’m one of us. That’s the message.”