The Mississippi Legislature returned to Jackson today to affirm its authority to appropriate funds, including federal CARES Act funding.
This afternoon, the House and Senate amended SB 2772 to transfer $1.15-billion in CARES Act funding into the state’s budget contingency fund for the Legislature to appropriate when it returns in mid-May. $100-million was left in a COVID-19 account to be used at the discretion of the governor and the Department of Finance and Administration to cover any emergencies that arise before the Legislature reconvenes. The bill passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate with two dissenting votes and one senator voting present. The near-total agreement in both chambers indicates more than sufficient support to override a gubernatorial veto should Gov. Reeves decide to go that route.
No other legislative action was taken today.
Reeves has argued that he should have sole authority to determine how Mississippi’s $1.25-billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding is spent, but the constitution says otherwise. Our representative democracy hinges on the right of the people to have input into how our tax dollars are expended, by communicating our wishes to the representatives and senators we elect. The legislative appropriations process provides the means for us to see clearly how our funds are disbursed, to watch the open debate, and to hold legislators accountable for their recorded votes.
Lt. Gov. Hosemann and Speaker Gunn report that they have been in communication with state agencies about their coronavirus-related budgetary needs, and they have been told that agencies do not currently need an emergency appropriation to cover their expenses. It was noted in debate today that many state agencies already are receiving separate, much-needed relief funds directly from the federal government (in addition to the $1.25-billion currently under discussion).
The Legislature plans to return in mid-May to finish out the regular 2020 Legislative Session, and education is expected to be a subject of much debate. We will need to be on our toes!
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