/Legislative leaders plan early return to Jackson to strip Gov Tate Reeves of CARES Act spending authority

Legislative leaders plan early return to Jackson to strip Gov Tate Reeves of CARES Act spending authority

Reeves stated that he would pay for the CARES Act funds, but he has also said that he would work closely with legislators and that the Legislature should play a significant role. However, legislative leadership decided to act this week, aiming to return the Capitol Monday to pass legislation that would remove Reeves from the spending power. Third-term Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn called GOP caucus members on Wednesday night, and asked them to be ready for a Monday return to review the legislation. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, a first-term Republican called many of the 52 senators in the state on Wednesday to discuss the governor’s spending authority. Mississippi Today was told by a high-ranking GOP lawmaker that they are not going to give in to the governor’s demands to allow him to spend the money on his own. “The people’s legislature ought to have input. It is not legal for him and it’s not right. We wouldn’t be sitting around if we didn’t do something similar.” The Legislature has been on a coronavirus-related break since March and was originally scheduled to return on May 18. Mississippi Today heard from several legislators on Wednesday that a Monday return is possible, two weeks before the original May 18 date. To override a Reeves veto, two-thirds of the Senate and House must vote. On Wednesday, both House and Senate lawmakers, representing both parties, said that they were confident that the override votes had been counted. When Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was in office, 2002 was the last time that the Legislature overrode a governor’s veto. Ronnie Musgrove was still in office. Reeves defends his right to spend the money. He cites a 40 year-old state law which gives the governor authority to accept and disburse federal money in emergency situations. It was the same process that was used to appropriate federal funds for Hurricane Katrina, 2009’s Great Recession and the 2010 BP oil spillage. Reeves stated that he would use the funds in many ways, including making schools more ready to conduct distance learning in the event of another event forcing schools to close; providing financial assistance for workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic; and helping local governments. Reeves posted on Facebook Tuesday night, “We must be transparent.” We have to be cautious. “We have to be careful. Hosemann stated that legislators who are elected to represent specific districts know better how to spend funds than any one governor during one of their calls with senators. Many members of the Mississippi Today House stated that the state Constitution gives the Legislature this spending authority. Clarifying the language in state law would strengthen that. On Wednesday, Gunn and Hosemann staff did not respond to requests for comment. The federal funding is part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which Congress passed in March. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and other related issues, funding is provided in many areas. This includes help to individuals, businesses, education entities, state public health agencies, and various other aspects state and local governments. The bill includes a $340 billion package that will be available to state and larger local governments to cover the costs associated with the pandemic. Mississippi is entitled to $1.25 billion in this particular section. The bill did not allow Mississippi’s local governments to receive a direct earmark. According to federal guidelines, the $1.25 million the state will receive in CARES Act funding cannot be used to address budget shortfalls resulting from the current economic downturn. Jarvis Dortch (D-Jackson), was the first legislator to publicly state that he believes the Legislature should have input into spending the funds in a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday night. Jarvis Dortch said that the state should receive a portion of the funds to offset coronavirus-related expenses. Dortch stated Tuesday night that he would push for the Legislature’s input on how the money is spent. “(The local governments need to be reimbursed” Robert Johnson of Natchez (the House Democratic leader) said that in the coming days, Democrats will send a formal letter listing the projects they believe federal money should be used for. Johnson stated that the Legislature should participate in this process. Johnson stated that it would be logical for Representatives to meet with Johnson and work together. Johnson stated that “a lot of the funds should not be spent within the framework the legislative appropriations process.” To support this work, you can make a recurring gift today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive and help us continue important work such as this one.