On Friday, Mississippi lawmakers reconvened and voted to remove Governor Tate Reeves’ authority to spend $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funding.
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said, “The funds the Legislature began appropriating Friday according to its constitutional duty were for other COVID-19 expenses. The Legislature provided $100M to the Governor’s Office for emergency expenses in the interim, though agencies have reported to us they do not have immediate monetary needs. These funds were not designated for any particular agency or program. They can reimburse COVID-19 expenses incurred so far, and they can also be spent on indirect expenses impacting our citizens’ health and economic security.”
Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, released a video, via Facebook, explaining the action taken by the legislature.
Senator Brice Wiggins said, “Today’s vote was important because it reaffirmed the legislature’s authority to appropriate taxpayer dollars. I’ve always voted this way and gladly did again today. The unanimous vote in both Chambers is undeniable. At the end of the day, the bill simply moved the money to the Budget Contingency Fund, while leaving money for the Governor to allocate in case of emergency circumstances for now and the immediate future. Once signed by Governor Reeves, the hard work of allocating the money begins. Now, we can get down to sending the money to the citizens of Mississippi and do it quickly because we have people who are unemployed, sick, anxious, and in some cases dying. What that will look like will require the leadership of the executive and legislative branches alike. I look forward to taking on that challenge, as well as finishing the rest of the state budget in my roll on the Appropriations Committee the coming weeks and months.”
The bill has moved to the desk of Governor Tate Reeves. He has until Thursday, May 7th, to decide what action he will take on the legislation.
On Sunday, Governor Reeves issued the following statement addressing the move by the legislature:
You’ve heard my grave concerns about the effort to strip our ability to use the CARES Act emergency funds to help you get through this terrible time. I am very afraid that Mississippians are going to be hurt by it—badly. I want to say something, though, that might surprise you.
The men and women of the Mississippi legislature are not bad people. In fact, I’ve known many of them for many years and they are good people. I’ve known Speaker Gunn for almost 20 years and I truly respect him as just a good, decent human being. The man who handled this bill in the Senate is the current Senate Appropriations chairman, Briggs Hopson. Over eight years ago, I appointed him to serve as Vice-Chair of the Appropriations process and to lead the very powerful Judiciary committee. I could give you example after example of their colleagues that are hard-working public servants. They serve because they love our state. And contrary to the assumption of many, they don’t make much money for serving.
They are sensitive to protecting their turf. They are sensitive to protecting their power. Some of them want to “stick it to” me or settle personal scores. They want revenge for fights in the past. And I understand that. That’s politics. I just don’t think they understand the harm they are doing.
The legislative branch is built upon the notion of a deliberative process of discussion, debate, and caution. The very foundation is the idea that it is better to do nothing and produce no harm than to act quickly and make a mistake. That’s a noble process. It does not work in distributing emergency funds in an ever-changing environment.
I’ll explain how they want to get the CARES Act funds to people in need. Brace yourself: it’s long. They have committee hearings and listen to testimony from other subject matter experts. They then have committee meetings where they debate the merits and make individual amendments. Then they take the committee recommendations to the full floor of each chamber and all members of that chamber have an opportunity to discuss, amend, and debate. Then they vote.
And then the bill goes to the OTHER Chamber and the very same process begins. They have committee hearings and listen to testimony from other subject matter experts. Then they have committee meetings where they debate the merits and make individual amendments. Then they take the committee recommendations to the full floor of each chamber and all members of that chamber have an opportunity to discuss, amend, and debate. Then they vote.
THEN they must get together in a “conference committee” with 3 Senators and 3 Representatives and work out their differences. This is typically where the horse trading begins. I will do this for you if you do this for me. My fellow house member needs this and your fellow Senate member needs that for his/her district. So let’s cut a deal and agree to both! Then they have to take it back to both chambers which debate and vote on it again.
It typically takes a few months. If they get it done lightning fast, they may agree by July and then we can start helping folks.
There’s nothing inherently bad about all of these steps. The process is the process. And typically it produces an end product that is acceptable to the Governor (who has the power of the veto) and to the people we all serve.
But this deliberative process does not work in an emergency. It is the very reason that 40 years ago those who came before us chose to take politics out of emergency response and give the responsibility to the Chief Executive.
I am more than willing to take the blame for all the bad decisions I make and give ALL the credit to the Legislature for the good decisions we make. When the funds get out, thank them! I don’t care. I just don’t want businesses to shutter and more people to catch the virus because some people wanted to make a political point.
There’s a lot we could do with it. My thought process: Let’s get money to our small business owners. Let’s get checks to our barbers. Let’s get checks to our hair salon workers. Let’s give direct grants to our teachers. Let’s take care of our cities and counties. Let’s give emergency supplemental pay for essential workers. Let’s make sure everyone has access to PPE. And let’s do it now.
We don’t have time for committee meetings. We don’t have time for committee hearings. We don’t have time for politicians to cut deals. The virus and unemployment crisis are here now. Mississippians need help now.