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Burton: No favoritism behind failed budget bill language

Terry Burton

Terry Burton

Last Monday morning, Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, got a text message from Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, in which Newton asked Moak to allow the conference report for House Bill 1095 to clear the House, which would have sent it to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk to await his signature. The text, Moak said, seemed odd because Moak had done no work on the bill. He wasn’t the committee chair who sent it to the floor, and he wasn’t one of the conferees appointed to hash it out.

HB 1095 revises actual revenue numbers for fiscal year 2011 for several state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety and the Division of Medicaid. Language inserted late in the conference process, however, spells out the job description and educational requirements of the deputy director of administration of the Division of Medicaid. The educational requirements say a candidate “shall have at least five years’ experience in a health-related field and/or shall possess a special knowledge of Medicaid as pertaining to the State of Mississippi.  The Deputy Director of Administration may perform those duties of the executive director that the executive director has not expressly retained for himself.” The bill stipulates the deputy director of administration would serve at the will and pleasure of the governor, and would be appointed by the governor.

Moak, along with several other House Democrats and at least one Republican, opposed that language in the bill, saying it had been inserted too late in the process to properly evaluate, and that it appeared to intend for a specific person to become the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“When several of us found out about it (right before the House would vote on the conference report), that was the first time we had seen it,” Moak said. “We were really concerned.”

And when Moak got the text message from Burton in which Burton encouraged Moak to support the bill as a whole, Moak said it “kind of raised my eyebrows. I had no conversations with Burton about this beforehand. So somebody told him I was against it. That’s my logical rationale.”

“I’ve qualified to run for re-election,” Burton said, when he was asked if he was in line for a gubernatorial appointment to the Division of Medicaid. Burton denied having contacted any House member to encourage them to support the bill.

In a subsequent interview, Moak said he received another text message from Burton, this one asking Moak to delete any text messages from Burton. Moak did not delete the messages, he said, because they could be the subject of a public records request.

Asked again in a follow-up interview if he believed he would be named Medicaid’s deputy director of administration, Burton admitted he had lobbied for the bill to Moak, but denied several times that he had been given assurances that the job would be his.

“I supported it because the governor and the Division of Medicaid supported it,” Burton said. “If it’s for Medicaid, I’m going to support it. I’ve heard I’m going to be everything from Division of Medicaid director to the head of the Department of Public Safety. Anything’s possible. Would I take the job if offered? I might.”

The job won’t be extended to anybody, because the language dealing with it was removed from the bill, after Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, made a point of order on the House floor that eliminated it. The conference report for the bill, minus the deputy director of administration language, has already been approved by both chambers and will now go to Barbour.

“I just didn’t understand the need,” Baker said, when asked why he raised the point of order that ended up striking the language. “We’re spending too much as it is.”

According to House Appropriations chairman Johnny Stringer, who was one of the House conferees, the Division of Medicaid requested the language be inserted in the bill.

Division of Medicaid spokesperson Francis Rullan disputed that in an email, saying that agency did not request the language be inserted into the legislation. The deputy director of administration position already exists, Rullan said, adding that he was under the impression that it currently requires a college degree and a CPA license. The position is currently filled.

Before Baker’s action, the bill would have required that a candidate either have five years’ worth of experience in the healthcare field or an intimate knowledge of Mississippi’s Medicaid system, or both. There was no requirement a candidate hold a college degree. Burton’s bio on the Senate website lists his education as having been attained from Newton High School. No college or university is listed.

Barbour spokesperson Laura Hipp said that the governor did not request the language be inserted into the bill, “but he wouldn’t have objected to it had it made into the final version.”

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