Lawmakers frustrated at impasse

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 5, 2009

Though vastly varied in their philosophies on running stategovernment, area lawmakers were united in frustration after the2009 legislative session ended early Thursday with no budget forthe coming fiscal year.

The approximately six-month session was called off just aftermidnight Thursday morning when House and Senate conferees failed toagree on a state spending plan, despite more than a month ofnegotiations. Arguments over budget cuts, stimulus funding and thestate’s car tag rebate program apparently made a compromiseunreachable.

With only 25 days remaining before the start of the fiscal yearon July 1, lawmakers now await Gov. Haley Barbour’s call to join aspecial session, where he will craft the agenda and have a largerdegree of control over the Legislature’s proceedings.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I think it was a big mistake,” said District 53 Rep. BobbyMoak, D-Bogue Chitto. “I personally just feel it was so wrongbecause the Legislature should not allow itself to abdicate itsduties to the executive branch. The Legislature should do its dutywithout interference from the executive branch.”

The major point of contention on budget negotiations, Moak said,was a debate over whether the Legislature could set aside $60million in stimulus funds for the future. Republicans tried toreserve the money; Democrats wanted to make it part of the budgetimmediately and try to avoid budget cuts.

“You need that $60 million to balance the budget because wedon’t have the income we thought we would have,” Moak said. “Thestimulus money is actually plugging some holes.”

Moak was among those representatives who voted in favor ofmultiple attempts to extend the session by 30 days as Wednesdaynight wore on, but none of the attempts succeeded.

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, supports thegovernor’s plan to save the money and trim the current budgetaccordingly. She voted against the measures to extend thesession.

“They’ve had the budget,” she said. “We’ve had it, we know whatit is. They have argued and could not reach an agreement for 60days. Why should we extend it longer? They obviously were justgonna extend it and argue some more and still not reach anagreement.”

Currie said House Democrats’ wishes to fully fund the budgetwithout making some cuts are unrealistic and are the reason whybudget negotiations stalled. She supports the governor’s plan tohold $60 million in stimulus funds until next year.

“There are going to be cuts,” Currie said. “There’s no way, nohow this budget will stretch without cuts. But we don’t want toblow everything and end up like California, saying, ‘We are broke,’because we’ve spent everything we can get our hands on andmore.”

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, said the House wouldnot back down from its resistance to budget cuts. He acknowledgedthat Barbour would have more control over a special session, butpointed out the budget must still pass both chambers of theLegislature.

“Obviously, that’s not too tough for him in the Senate – allhe’s gotta do is move the puppet strings,” Evans said. “It’s alittle tougher in the House. We in the House are not willing tomake those cuts to come up with $60 million.”

Evans supported resolutions to extend the session, sayingcalling a special session would be pointless unless a budgetagreement is reached beforehand. He said budget conferees shouldcontinue negotiating so when the special session is called,legislators won’t waste taxpayer money by “sitting up (there)basically twiddling our thumbs.”

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said the House steered budgetnegotiations on a course that would have “totally depleted all ourfunds.” She voted against the Senate’s attempts to extend thesession.

“During the process, there have been times that I felt like theHouse did not offer anything reasonable enough for me as aconservative to be able to live with because I know that we’re notnearly out of this recession,” she said. “In my opinion, therewasn’t enough preparation going on in the House to get us throughto the end of the recession, and I was very concerned aboutthat.”