/Lawmakers pass DMR budget compromise during fight with governor

Lawmakers pass DMR budget compromise during fight with governor

“We agreed that the issue needed be resolved now,” stated Philip Gunn, Republican House Speaker. Gunn has been at odds for some time with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves filed a lawsuit against Governor Romney over the governor’s line item vetoes on legislative spending. Gunn and other legislators claim that the state Constitution grants appropriation power only to the Legislature and not to the executive branch. They also believe that the separation of DMR’s budget and the Gulf restoration money it flows through DMR’s budget was violated by previous governors for many years. Gunn stated Monday that they had agreed to continue working on the issue. “This agreement is a one-time deal for this year, and it does not concede the issue or hinder any moving forward.” DMR, the state agency that provides law enforcement and marine regulatory services on the Gulf Coast, was without a budget since July 1, and was due to run out of money at the end August to pay its payroll and operate. This week, a hurricane and a tropical storm wreaked havoc on the Gulf and DMR provided emergency services. The issue is the control of millions of dollars per year in Gulf restoration funds Mississippi receives to lease oil and gas leases. The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) is a federal revenue sharing program that benefits oil-producing states in the Gulf. The state has $47million in GOMESA funds for this year. Reeves called the legislative push for GOMESA spending control a “power grab”, after the executive branch has managed the program since 2006. Since 2006, Mississippi’s share in GOMESA has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of money that is coming into the state. It went from hundreds of thousands per year to tens or millions. The issue was a contentious one. Most of the Senate supported Reeves authority to manage GOMESA funds. The compromise includes $27 million for projects that have been approved by the executive and $10 million for projects that it approves in this budget year. The Legislature will continue negotiations for executive authority on the program, with the $10 million remaining being held up until next year. Philip Moran (R-Kiln), Senate Ports and Marine Resources Chairman, said, “I’m very grateful we reached an agreement to bring DMR back on track.” He had previously supported Reeves position. “… We will continue to work on it next year, when we return. “We’re not that far apart at all.” Senate leaders previously proposed a compromise which included the creation of a legislative advisory panel to make recommendations about GOMESA spending and projects. House leaders suggested that the governor submit a list GOMESA projects each year for legislative approval. This would allow for “checks & balances.” Phil Bryant and Haley Barbour controlled the approval of GOMESA project vetted through DMR. The revenue was initially small, but it grew steadily. Legislators and others have raised concerns over whether coastal protection and restoration projects are being chosen. Millions of dollars in GOMESA funds were granted to construct boardwalks near casinos. A planned aquarium in Gulfport was also built. The tram system, which is threatened to be “deobligated” for failing to meet GOMESA requirements, and other projects that critics claim don’t serve the intended purpose have also been funded. Reeves, speaking Monday morning at a press conference about the threat to Mississippi by a tropical storm or a hurricane, stated that he had met with legislative leaders in the past few weeks and was happy to reach a compromise. Monday’s session of the Legislature was reconvened to pass a DMR budget. Tuesday’s meeting will be brief before adjourning to October. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today.