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Special session now required to finalize AG budget, MDOT budget, and education

Tuesday was the deadline for appropriation bills, or any legislation dealing with how state money will be spent. Some major agencies did not receive a finalized budget from lawmakers, forcing those decisions to be made in a special session. 

The date of the session has not been announced but lawmakers have discussed topics that will have to be brought to the table before the Fiscal Year 2017 ends.

When the special session is called, the Attorney General’s budget, HB 1492, will come back up for discussion. While lawmakers in the House and Senate originally agreed on the conference report, an error in the bill was found by Rep. David Baria.

“A conference report was signed which contained some language that David Baria, the Democratic leader, raised a point of order that some of it was inappropriate, it’s what we call amending by reference,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.

Gunn said that the House attorneys reached out to the Senate attorneys to find the best course of action. The House then drafted a resolution and sent it to the Senate for approval, however the Senate did not pick up the bill before last nights appropriation deadline. The bill died, forcing it to be addressed in a special session.

“The resolution required the Senate to pass the resolution as well and they did not pass the resolution,” said Speaker Gunn. “We were lead to believe that this was the mechanism through which the conference report could be fixed so I don’t know if those lawyers changed their mind or concluded they couldn’t do it.”

Also undecided at the end of deadline day was the budget for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, HB1509. Representatives said this bill was forced into a special session in order to take a stand on funding the improvement of roads and bridges.

“The individual House members who signed the MDOT conference report were not aware of the fact that at that time the Lt. Governor and Senators were not willing to negotiate with us on a road funding plan,” said Rep. Jason White.

Those negotiations were at a stand still over what many have been calling a “new” internet sales tax. However, the wording of the bill outlines appropriating funds from the already existing “use” tax.

Related: House and Senate clash on new tax vs use tax

According to the House this is not a new tax, but a use tax that is voluntary for online sellers. Amazon has recently agreed to provide this voluntary revenue that Rep. Trey Lamar said could bring in an extra 50 million on average in funds.

“We have not raised any taxes, we have not attempted to raise any taxes, we have put forward an infrastructure plan spending existing and new monies that now Amazon is paying into the state, not because of a new tax, but because they voluntarily came to the table,” said Rep. Lamar.

Senators however, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have called the movement one to instate a tax that is unconstitutional, saying it goes directly against a supreme court ruling that a state cannot tax an online seller.

Speaker Philip Gunn said that the legislation isn’t even about the internet sales tax bill. There is no new tax from the bond bill that was discussed.

“We challenge anybody that claims it is a tax to show us where the language implements a tax, it is simply not true,” said Gunn.

Because of the controversy surrounding this bill that would provide extra funding for roads and bridges, a unanimous bipartisan vote in the House made it possible for the MDOT budget bill to be discussed in a special session.

“It was the only procedural alternative that we had left because of the way the Senate acted,” said White.

“To force a conversation about infrastructure and transportation,” said Lamar. “How many times have you seen the whole board go one way on an issue as important as transportation and have everybody say we are ready for that conversation, whatever it is, lets have it.”

In addition to the discussion on appropriations for MDOT, roads and bridges, and the Attorney General’s office, Senator Brice Wiggins has said the discussion over the BP Oil Spill settlement should be on the table as well.

The bill that would allocate BP Oil Spill settlement funds strictly to the Coast has died, but Wiggins is imploring the Governor to bring it up in the special session. He took to Facebook to make his plea.

Senate Bill 2634 was authored by Wiggins but died in House Committee before deadlines earlier in the session.

Speaker Philip Gunn has speculated that education and a potential contract with Edbuild will also be brought up in the session Lawmakers have not been able to make a decision regarding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and it’s potential restructure.

RELATED: Special session looming for roads and bridges funding

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