Tempers flared and blame was cast Tuesday after House Democrats effectively forced a second day of the special session that will cost taxpayers an additional $33,228.
The Senate voted Tuesday morning to pass a bill which would allow Gov. Phil Bryant to transfer more than $50 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund if needed. But when the bill got to the House floor, Democrats refused to vote to temporarily suspend House rules and immediately consider it, forcing House members into a second day of the special session.
The state will pay House members an additional $33,228 on top of the $68,720 total that was spent for Tuesday’s session. The sum is covered by the legislative office budget, according to Laura Hipp, spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The legislative office budget is part of the state’s general fund, which is at the forefront of conversations this week because it will likely need an influx of reserve funds from Bryant to balance at the end of this month.
The move was criticized publicly by many Republican officials Tuesday afternoon, including Bryant and House Speaker Philip Gunn. Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi, called the delay “unfortunate” and said he needs to be in his office “taking care of my family.” Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, called the move “pointless.”
“With their actions today, House Democrats have threatened the funding of state government, have raised the very real possibility of an additional $50-60 million in reductions for fiscal year 2016 and cost taxpayers an additional $30,000,” said Clay Chandler, spokesman for Bryant. “The governor will make every effort to maintain vital services to include public safety and the military.”
Democrats in the House defended the action, citing lack of fiscal responsibility from Republicans.
“We won’t gain anything, just bring more media attention to what’s going on,” said Rep. John Faulkner, D-Holly Springs. “All we’re trying to do is inform Mississippians as to what’s happening here in Jackson. … Our senators across the aisle will say we’re wasting taxpayers’ dollars. Well we’re wasting taxpayers’ dollars to be here to start with. So let’s take care of this back in the regular session and we wouldn’t be here.”
House minority leader Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said House Democrats requested a meeting with state fiscal officials to get information about this year’s and next year’s budget. Baria said that had that request been honored, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, could have called the House back into session Tuesday afternoon instead of Wednesday morning.
Gunn refuted that claim later in the afternoon, saying that he never heard from the House Democrats until after the afternoon vote not to suspend the rules.
“Mr. Baria and his team are simply trying to avoid responsibility, dodge responsibility for us being back here another day, and cost the taxpayers another $30,000,” Gunn said. “This is a simple matter, and it is a matter that has an easy resolution. The bill is very simple, it is not complicated. And they’re choosing to play games with taxpayers’ dollars when they’ve had plenty of time to resolve this.”
The bill will be considered on Wednesday at 9 a.m. If it is passed without amendment, it will then move to the governor’s desk for signature.
Mississippi Today reporters Larrison Campbell and Kate Royals contributed to this report