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

An effort by the Republican legislative leadership to override Gov. Tate Reeves’ line item vetoes of a handful of earmarked 2022 projects fizzled Thursday after the Senate couldn’t muster enough votes.

“We had the votes to override,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said Thursday after the House took a long recess waiting to hear if Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann could garner two-thirds support in the Senate. “The Senate tells us they don’t have the votes.”

Gunn and Hosemann had said Reeves’ vetoes were an overreach of executive power into purse-string duties constitutionally reserved for the Legislature.

“This wasn’t about the projects,” Gunn said. “This is about does a governor have the authority to line-item veto in a general bill? … There is no provision under the constitution for that.”

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

Reeves last year vetoed 10 projects, about $27 million worth, out of scores of projects lawmakers approved statewide in a $223 million capital projects bill. The state constitution says a governor has line-item veto power on appropriations bills, and the state Supreme Court recently expanded those powers with a ruling in Reeves’ favor in 2020. But the state constitution 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.

READ MORE: Legislative leaders want to override several of Gov. Tate Reeves’ vetoes

House Bill 1353 last year, although it funded projects, was a “transfer” bill shifting money from one fund to another — a general bill, not an appropriations bill. Lawmakers say allowing a governor line-item veto authority over general bills would be a huge power shift in a state where the governor is, by design, “constitutionally weak” particularly in spending matters.

Reeves, when he issued his veto last year, called the projects “wasteful” spending. But his vetoes appeared selective, and the city of Jackson bore the brunt, with four projects nixed by the governor. These included rejuvenating a golf course and building a nature trail at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park and upgrades to the city’s planetarium and convention center parking lot.

Reeves said Jackson has too many problems such as crumbling water infrastructure and crime to be spending money on parks and planetariums.

Hosemann, who had been a proponent of the LeFleur’s Bluff project, early this week said the vetoes were improper and he wanted to discuss overriding them with the House.

But Hosemann and other Senate leaders were tight-lipped Thursday on override efforts. Hosemann shrugged and walked away when asked for an update on whether the Senate would have the votes.

Overriding a governor’s veto requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers, and is a rare occurrence. Lawmakers overrode a Reeves veto of education spending in 2020. Before that, no governor’s veto had been overturned since 2002, with then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

READ MORE: Latest Reeves vetoes could again expand governor’s power

Besides the high hurdle of a two-thirds vote and rarity of attempted overrides by lawmakers, the effort to override Reeves’ line-item vetoes faced some political optics issues. The capital projects measure from last year was something of a “Christmas tree” bill with pet projects earmarked across the state, including another public golf course and $7 million in handouts to three private companies that Reeves said bypassed normal state vetting of economic development projects.

At the time, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba was also critical of lawmakers spending $13 million on a golf course and not providing more for water system work.

But opponents of Reeves’ vetoes said they appeared selective, noting he approved most of the scores of projects in the bill, including for museums and greenspace around some courthouses and other public buildings — but not others.

One of the projects vetoed by Reeves was $500,000 to place a green area around the federal courthouse in Greenville.

Sen. Derrick Simmons, the chamber’s Democratic leader who lives in Greenville, said the courthouse project in his district was supported by the federal judiciary; U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Tupelo Republican; and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Bolton Democrat.

“It was my hope that I would be given the opportunity to vote to override the governor’s veto of the project in my district and all the other projects in the state that were deemed worthy by the Legislature but vetoed by the governor,” Simmons said.

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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.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.