04 Jun Mississippi House Democratic Caucus
A REVIEW OF THE RECENT SPECIAL SESSION
By Rep. David Baria, Chair
Last week, the Legislature concluded a special session that drained another $100,000 from an already stressed state budget. Thankfully, it only lasted a single day. In that day we passed six bills, two of which were related to budgets that the leadership couldn’t agree on during the regular 90-day session. Other measures considered were required to clean up problems caused by ill-conceived revisions of the budgeting process enacted in 2016 that have threatened necessary programs, and to address the state’s credit rating.
Some, including House Speaker Gunn, had been calling for additional revenue streams to address the looming public safety crisis created by documented road and bridge deficiencies. Instead, we adhered to the original MDOT and State Aid Roads budget proposals from the regular session. The only thing different between the original regular session bills for MDOT and what was passed June 5th was the elimination of a string of Senate “pet projects” that had caused strong objections on our end of the Capitol.
The Attorney General’s Office, whose budget was also left unaddressed during the regular session, made a strong public plea for restoration of $4 million cut from the agency budget so that important crime-fighting programs, like the cyber-crime unit, could continue. The request went unanswered, although members who handled his budget on the floor tried to assure us that the Attorney General could “move funds around” to cover these programs. That’s kind of like moving your reduced household budget around so you can pay for the mortgage, while the electricity bill goes unpaid.
Three of the remaining four bills addressed problems created by the so-called “Sweeps” bill of 2016, which required agency “special funds” to be deposited into the general fund. Despite the fact that such “special funds” were statutorily created to fund particular agency programs such as the Crime Victims Fund, legislative leadership has taken possession of them with a promise to fund them via agency appropriations. Two of these three bills afforded the Secretary of State the funding and authority needed to pay the City of Biloxi money owed to it from Point Cadet Plaza lease payments.
The fourth measure was creatively named “Financial and Operational Responses That Invigorate Future Years (FORTIFY) Act.” It increased the cap on the Rainy Day Fund among other things in an effort to strengthen the state’s fiscal image, since our credit rating has been in steady decline for the past few years. According to Standard & Poor’s annual rating of the Mississippi economy provided May 1, 2017, “The negative outlook reflects our view of continued weakness in Mississippi’s revenue trends and relatively slow economic growth, and our expectation that the state could continue to experience budget pressures as it manages through budget reductions and the incremental revenue loss from the scheduled implementation of recent tax changes.” In other words, we needed to take steps to demonstrate that we can manage our budget better, and we took a small step towards doing so.
In short, the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus met in Special Session to clean up leadership decisions that have left our fiscal ship of state leaking and listing as we struggle under the lowest-ranked economy in the nation. And, we haven’t felt the brunt of the funding drain that’s coming in the next few years from massive corporate giveaways and tax cuts.
These decisions have been made without much discussion or input in most cases, and the results speak for themselves. We continue to implore the politicians in leadership roles in Jackson to study the effects of similar decisions made in Kansas and other states just a few years ago. Mississippi can learn from the Kansas Experiment, and it’s not too late to change direction here before economic conditions worsen to the point that they become irreversible. House Democrats stand ready to do the tough work necessary to create economic conditions that spur job growth and invite businesses and young, bright people back into our state to lead us into the next decade.
The session closed on a somber note when 11 of our colleagues, members of the Legislative Black Caucus, came to the well to express their dismay at a member’s thoughtless use of the word “lynch” in a social media post. Their impassioned speeches provided solemn and heart-wrenching reminders of dark days in Mississippi’s past. As elected officials, each of us bears the responsibility to make sure that our words and actions reflect a Mississippi where all are treated with kindness, respect and understanding. There is simply no excuse to behave otherwise.