/Reeves depends on opinion of old rival Hood to ensure education funding

Reeves depends on opinion of old rival Hood to ensure education funding

Governor. Reeves now relies heavily on Hood’s 2009 official opinion to fund public schools during an unprecedented period in state history, when there is virtually no legislative appropriation for the kindergarten-12th grade education system. This unique problem is made worse by the fact that the non-funding occurs while local districts struggle with decisions about when and if they should start school in the midst COVID-19. In June, the Legislature approved a $2.5 Billion budget for education. Reeves vetoed $2.2 billion, but only partially. This was because the budget bill didn’t include funds for the School Recognition Program. It provides Christmas bonuses to teachers and staff from the most successful and improving schools districts. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach was the House Education Chair and stated that the Legislature’s inability to fund the program was an oversight. He vetoed it. Bennett stated, “We informed Governor Hob Bryan’s staff that legislative clarification would easily fix this matter” and that a vote was not necessary. Senator Hob Bryan (D-Amory) said that the governor should have declared victory. Bryan stated that Reeves chose to “grandstand” and vetoed part of the education budget. Inexplicably, the majority of the $2.2 million vetoed section of the bill was for teacher salaries. This includes all their salaries and not just merit bonuses. Reeves claimed that the veto was the best method to ensure teachers receive their merit pay bonuses. He points out that these were promised in previous sessions. Reeves is now citing Hood’s 2009 opinion to argue that he has the power to fund the schools on his own, almost one month into the new fiscal. Hood, Mississippi’s chief lawyer, stated that although it is clear that only the Legislature has the responsibility for appropriating state funds, there are some services that must be provided in the state Constitution regardless of whether there has been a legislative appropriation. The Constitution actually requires that public schools be established. It is now up to you to decide at what level the system should be funded. Reeves argued, again on the advice of his former rival that the system should be funded at its last legislative appropriation which was the 2019 session. Reeves stated that he is doing this at the moment. Reeves stated that the provision of funds to schools by the state is a constitutional matter. He has provided a letter…to make a transfer…There will also be a transfer for the local school districts.” Reeves added that the 2009 AG’s opinion was written during a massive standoff between the then-Gov. Haley Barbour is a Republican and a Democratic Party-controlled House. Barbour demanded a tax on state hospitals. The Barbour plan was rejected by the House. Because of the disagreement over the hospital tax, an agreement on a budget covering all areas from education to law enforcement and health care was not possible. The 2009 opinion was only a legal theory. However, it was never implemented because of a late-night budget agreement that was reached hours before midnight on July 1, 2009 to begin a new fiscal year. Hood’s opinion, unless challenged in court or thrown out by the judiciary, is now the law of the land. The Legislature has been plagued by COVID-19 in its ranks over the past weeks, adding to an already difficult situation. The Legislature will eventually have to address Reeves’ veto over the education budget. The options for legislators include: If Reeves is overruled by the Legislature, it will be the first time since 2002 that a governor’s override can be done. Republican governors. Each Phil Bryant and Barbour served eight years without having their vetos overridden. Reeves could be the next victim in his first year of office. He would argue that the inconvenience of a veto-override was worth it in order to fund the School Recognition Program. Bennett and others argue that it could have been funded without the override and without Reeves being dependent on his old rival for funding public education.