Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday vetoed state spending recently passed by lawmakers for major upgrades to a Jackson park, the capital city’s planetarium and several other earmarks lawmakers made in a massive capital projects bill.
“Jackson is not one suburban golf course and one planetarium away from thriving,” Reeves said, adding the city should focus on its crumbling infrastructure and crime. “Until then, these projects would never be viable.”
Flush with federal pandemic stimulus cash and state surpluses largely generated from trillions in federal spending, the Legislature this year had billions extra to spend beyond its $7 billion general budget. Lawmakers directed money to hundreds of projects statewide.
Reeves has signed most of this spending into law, but in recent days has selectively used line-item vetoes to nix an handful of projects, including a $50 million hospital renovation at the University of Mississippi Medical Center with federal pandemic relief funds.
During a Thursday news conference, Reeves said his office made a “diligent, thorough” review of legislative spending and he used his veto stamp on items that were “not the most appropriate way to spend your hard-earned dollars.”
Reeves praised hundreds of millions of dollars legislators directed to water and sewerage projects, road and bridge work and other infrastructure “that sustains society.” He said they are sure to have a generational impact on the state. But he said spending on “golf courses, private pools … city and county office buildings” and $7.5 million earmarked for three private companies without going through the state’s incentives vetting process were untenable and “bad expenditures are bad expenditures.”
In a recent interview with Mississippi Today, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba had also criticized the state spending $13 million on a project that included the golf course. But he had also criticized the state not spending more on Jackson’s infrastructure needs.
Reeves said the state was willing to match Jackson’s water and sewer infrastructure spending, and criticized the city only putting up $25 million of the $42 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds it received for such work.
“I am very disappointed in how the city of Jackson and Hinds County have spent ARPA funds,” Reeves said. “… The only reason Jackson is only receiving $25 million (from the state) is because it only put up $25 million to match.”
The largest of the partial vetoes was the $13.25 million going for an ambitious LeFleur’s Bluff State Park upgrade that would develop a park, 10-hole golf course, bike and walking trails to connect museums in the area, such as the Mississippi Children’s Museum, the Sports Hall of Fame and Natural Science Museum, and develop various other recreational activities.
Reeves said he supported much of the project and hoped to work on developing it in the future, but he opposed the development of a golf course as part of the project. He said there are public golf courses already in the area, and the previous golf course at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park and courses and other state parks had not been successful.
“There are many parts of the project I can be supportive of, but the reopening of a golf course I cannot,” he said.
Reeves did not rule out placing the project on the agenda for any special session he has to call later this year for another issue. The governor has the authority to set the agenda for a special session. In the past, though, legislative leaders have taken up vetoes in special session even if there were not on the governor’s special session agenda.
The Legislature also would have the option to take up the vetoes at the start of the 2023 session. It takes a two-thirds majority of both chambers to override a veto.
Many of the items vetoed by the governor were for items in the city of Jackson.
Those Jackson vetoes in addition to the LeFleur’s Bluff project are:
- 250,000 for work at the Briarwood pool.
- $1 million for a parking lot at the Jackson Convention Center.
- $2 million for the city of Jackson planetarium.
Reeves said the planetarium is currently closed and questioned whether providing an additional $2 million would sustain the project.
In a statement, David Lewis, Jackson’s deputy commissioner of cultural affairs, said, “We are shocked and discouraged by the news about the governor vetoing the $2 million funding for the Planetarium. We are hoping to open a line of communication with the governor’s office to review our options.
“The Planetarium project is one that takes a beloved facility and brings it back to life for Mississippians to visit, be inspired by and to learn from. We know that our project will infuse STEM learning principles into our exhibits, bolster our growing tourism product by attracting national visitors, and strengthen the redeveloping downtown fabric in the Capital city.”
Other vetoes are:
- $1 million for golf course improvements at the Scenic River Development.
- $500,000 to the city of Greenvillle to develop green space next to the federal courthouse.
- $1 million to help with renovations of Pascagoula city offices.
- $50,000 for Arise and Shine Inc. in Copiah County.
- $200,000 to Summit Community Development Foundation.
- A combined $7 million for three companies.
In providing funds to the companies, Reeves said the Legislature bypassed the normal process of applying for funds for expansion projects with the Mississippi Development Authority and being vetted.
The vetoed items were part of a massive bill that totaled $223 million for projects throughout the state. Reeves said he approved near 90% of the projects that dealt with improvements to infrastructure and items that improved the quality of life. Multiple county courthouses received funds for renovations as did various museums and other projects throughout the state.
During the Thursday news conference Reeves said he wanted to stressed not the vetoed items, but the legislation signed into law that made a difference for the state in terms of primarily infrastructure improvement.
“We’re strengthening our roads, bolstering our bridges, and increasing access to clean drinking water,” Reeves said. “These investments will not only help us pave roads but pave the pathway to economic prosperity. By building better roads and constructing stronger bridges we give Mississippians the tools necessary to run their businesses, provide for their families, and get to work safely.”
The governor highlighted federal fund the state received to combat COVID-19 being used for water and sewer projects throughout the state. He also touted legislation he signed providing the Department of Transportation $1.43 billion, its largest appropriation ever. Reeves said the funds can be used, in part, to draw down federal funds that were part of the infrastructure package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden.
While Reeves vetoed various items he described as “wasteful” spending, he said he allowed to become law without his signature the pay raise for state elected officials. The pay raise will go into effect in 2024 after the 2023 elections.
Reeves said he decided to approve the pay raise because of another state law that prevents employees of elected officials from earning more than the top elected official. He said that makes it difficult for some government officials to hire competent employees for some positions, like staff attorneys or financial advisers in the treasurer’s office.
Reeves said he intends to donate his raise to charity if he is reelected in 2023.