Gov. Tate Reeves answers questions from the media after signing qualifying paperwork to run for reelection at the Mississippi Republican Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Legislative leaders hope to override Gov. Tate Reeves’ line-item vetoes of projects lawmakers approved last year, including $13 million to rejuvenate a golf course and build a nature trail at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson.

“We are looking into overriding it,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said on Tuesday. “That’s because of the precedence it sets — no matter who is governor. It’s the executive branch trying to usurp the power of the legislative branch. We are having discussions now.”

Lawmakers say that besides killing projects approved by the Legislature, Reeves’ action was an overreach of executive power. The Mississippi Constitution says a governor may veto or approve parts of any appropriations bill. But it does not give the chief executive line-item veto power on general bills. They can either veto the whole bill or let it pass into law.

While House Bill 1353 last year included $223 million for dozens of projects across the state, it was technically a general bill — a “transfer” bill that shifted money from one account to another — and not an appropriations bill. Reeves vetoed 10 projects, about $27 million worth, of the bill. His vetoes appeared selective, and the city of Jackson bore the brunt, with four projects nixed by the governor, including upgrades to the city’s planetarium and convention center parking lot.

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves blocks state funding for major Jackson park improvement, planetarium

Overriding a governor’s veto — a rare occurrence in Mississippi — requires a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate. That’s a heavy lift, and the clock is ticking. Lawmakers have three days from official receipt of Reeves’ veto notice on Tuesday to take the vote. Lawmakers successfully overrode a Reeves veto of education funding in his first year. Before that, no governor’s veto had been overturned since 2002, with then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

When he vetoed 10 of the hundreds of capital projects lawmakers passed last year, Reeves called them “wasteful” spending. 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.”

Reeves also said Jackson has too many problems such as crime and failing water infrastructure for the state to be spending money on such projects. But he approved scores of other projects across the state. Multiple county courthouses received funds for renovations as did various museums and other projects.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said on Tuesday as the 2023 legislative session started that he also wants to discuss an override with Gunn and other legislative leaders.

“I thought the governor’s veto of those items in a general bill was improper,” Hosemann said. “We have a few options. One, obviously, we could override his veto. Second, we could reappropriate those funds. Then, if he vetoed it a second time, we could try to override it then.”

Hosemann said he supports the projects Reeves vetoed for Jackson and does not consider them wasteful spending.

“While I realize the many needs Jackson has, such as water, the federal government just approved $600 million for it. We put up another $100 million … The question is whether or not we will support cultural attractions so our young men and women will come live and work here. LeFleur’s Bluff is a jewel for Jackson and for the state, and we need to treat it as such.”

Hosemann continued: “We could spend our entire budget on fixing water, but we don’t need to ignore other needs. The planetarium, LeFleur’s Bluff, Thalia Mara Hall — those are attractions for the whole state and region. We can’t ignore things like crime in Jackson, and we are not. We are spending tens of millions of dollars on combatting crime. But we can’t ignore the cultural parts of this state.”

State Rep. Christopher Bell, a Democrat representing Jackson, said: “Personally, I believe every veto the governor signed should be subject to a veto override. The governor has always displayed his hate for the city of Jackson. I wasn’t surprised by hearing the majority of the projects in the city of Jackson were vetoed.”

If Reeves’ line item vetoes of a general bill stand, it would mark another expansion of executive branch power in Mississippi.

In 2020, the Mississippi Supreme Court expanded the governor’s authority when it upheld two partial vetoes despite multiple Supreme Court cases dating back to the 1890s that had greatly limited that authority.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.