- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - When Democrats made the Mississippi House of Representatives stay an extra day last week, it was time to play the blame game.

The question was who was at fault for the $33,000 that it cost for the House to meet Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant called lawmakers back to Jackson so they could vote to let him withdraw more than the cap of $50 million from the state’s rainy day fund to cover a deficit in the 2016 budget year, which ended Thursday. The Republican leadership’s solution was simple - let Bryant pull as much money as he needed from the $349 million rainy day fund, secure that it would be illegal for Bryant to spend on items lawmakers hadn’t already authorized.

Republicans clearly wanted to get out of town in one day, in part because Democrats were using every minute to bash the GOP for not only 2016’s budget problems, but the likelihood that 2017’s budget problems will be worse.

Among Republicans, the talking points had clearly gone out that the 2016 shortfall was “not a crisis.”

Republicans needed two-thirds votes in both chambers to consider the bill on the same day it emerged from committee. They got the vote in the Senate, but not the House. This was in part the logic of power - Democrats in the House have been run over so many times this year that they’ve begun to resemble speed bumps. Presented with the opportunity to block something, they couldn’t resist.

What the Democrats got from the delay was another day to argue about Republican budgeting practices in front of news reporters and the public.

But there was the matter of the money. At least among those who spend too much time at the Capitol, people believe that Mississippians are easily infuriated that lawmakers get paid when extra days are tacked onto a legislative session.

For example, Sen. Chuck Younger, R-Columbus, told the Commercial Dispatch that House Democrats “wanted an extra day of pay.”

House Minority Leader David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, cruised up to reporters just after Tuesday’s House session ended to say it was Republicans’ fault that the House had to stay over. Baria told reporters that he’d told House Rules Committee Chairman Jason White, R-West, that Democrats would be willing to consider a vote Tuesday if Republicans gave Democrats a couple of hours to meet with budget officials.

White made two trips to the Capitol press room to deny Baria’s version of the story. He said Baria made no such clear offer, and said that in any case, Baria talked to him after Democrats had blocked immediate consideration of the bill. House rules say such a vote can’t be repeated on the same day after it’s failed, meaning White would have needed unanimous consent to bring the bill forward Tuesday.

With senators having ended their special session, the reality was that no changes could be made to the bill in the House, because senators weren’t there to ratify them.

The real problem for Democrats, though, is that budget politics are abstract, at least on the front end. The session was overshadowed by a tiff between Rep. Jeffrey Guice, R-Ocean Springs, and a mother seeking help from lawmakers in navigating Mississippi’s Medicaid program to buy supplies for her diabetic daughter. That’s one example of how state spending touches regular people.

But with rampant confusion over the 2017 budget, it’s hard to be sure of all its effects. If Democrats want to make real hay over Republican policy, they may have to until people lose services.

___

Jeff Amy has covered politics and government for The Associated Press in Mississippi since 2011. Follow him at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy .

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide