Details of Debate on SB2688 Legislation to Restore Budget Cuts

On Thursday, February 4, 2010, the Mississippi Senate passed overwhelmingly an amendment to Senate Bill 2688 (SB2688) proposed by Senator Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg that required the use of $50-million from the Health Care Expendable Fund to restore $45-million of the cuts that have been made to MAEP, National Board Certification Program supplements, and Chickasaw Cession payments; $5-million in cuts to other agencies would be restored at Governor Barbour’s discretion. The Senate adopted the amendment on a 32 to 15 vote. See the Senate vote.

Senator Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo held that bill on a motion to reconsider, saying that details of the bill needed to be worked out. The Clarion Ledger reported that Thursday evening, Governor Barbour met with some senators in Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant’s office. Seven senators who had voted in favor of the Hopson Amendment on Thursday, voted against it on Friday, resulting in a tie vote. Among those who switched their votes was Senate Education Chairman Videt Carmichael of Meridian. Senator Carmichael voted initially on Friday to sustain the winning vote on the Hopson Amendment, but changed his vote at the end of the roll call to create a tie. Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant broke the tie by voting against the Hopson Amendment, ultimately costing schools $16.3-million.

Senators Tollison and Blount took the podium to argue in favor of the Hopson Amendment, Senator Nunnelee argued against it, saying that funding was needed to pay for insurance on state buildings. He promised that if senators would vote down the Hopson Amendment, he would propose a substitute amendment that would provide the insurance and put some funding back into K-12 education, though not as much. Senator Hob Bryan questioned why, if the insurance was such an emergency, Senator Nunnelee, as Appropriations Chairman, had not brought forth a bill or an amendment to address it earlier.

Click here to see a breakdown of the votes on the Hopson Amendment.

Immediately following the narrow defeat of the Hopson Amendment, Senator Alan Nunnelee proposed a substitute amendment to increase the amount of funding used from the Healthcare Expendable Fund to $58-million and to decrease substantially the funding used to restore cuts to K-12 Education. His amendment proposed to put $16-million back into the Department of Corrections (prisons), $13.7-million back into the MAEP, $1.9-million into the National Board Certification Program, and $1.1-million into the Chickasaw Cession Interest account. The balance of the $58-million would go to other agencies.

Senator Gray Tollison questioned the wisdom of putting more dollars back into prisons than into the MAEP and reminded his colleagues that Governor Barbour had said that he would use his discretionary federal stimulus funds to restore the cuts made to the Department of Corrections.

Senator Hob Bryan responded by proposing a substitute amendment to shift $12-million of the funds in Senator Nunnelee’s amendment from Corrections to the MAEP. This would increase the funding for MAEP to $25.6-million. Senator Bryan noted his disappointment in the Senate’s defeat of the Hopson Amendment, which would have restored even more to education, and said that he offered this amendment as a compromise that he thought the Senate would support.

Senator Eugene “Buck” Clarke asked if the $12-million was an arbitrary number. Senator Bryan responded that all the numbers used were “ballpark” numbers, as is almost always the case in the budgeting process.

Senator David Baria took the podium to argue in favor of the Bryan amendment. He made the point that Senator Nunnelee’s amendment would restore 60% of the funds cut from the Department of Corrections this year while restoring only 8% of the funds cut from the MAEP. Senator Bryan’s amendment would generate a much more balanced approach, restoring 12% of the funds cuts this year from MAEP and restoring 12-15% of the funds cut this year from Corrections. He suggested that the Senate should, with this amendment, make the statement that, “…this body is going to support education.”

The Bryan Amendment passed with only 2 dissensions. Though Senator Billy Hewes initially voted against the amendment, he changed his vote following Senator Nunnelee’s “aye” vote, saying, “I’m just trying to support my chairman and follow his lead.” (Senator Nunnelee is the Appropriations Chairman.) See the vote on the Bryan Amendment.

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