Gov. Tate Reeves signs House Bill 1671, House Bill 510 and Senate Bill 2696 into law at the Walter Sillers Building in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves’ partial veto of five projects totaling $3.9 million in a larger bill containing hundreds of projects costing about $372 million appears to have come with a warning.

The warning is that any legal challenge of Reeves’ partial veto of those five projects could jeopardize the entire bill, which provides funding for hundreds of projects throughout the state supported by local governments and others.

Reeves issued his partial vetoes Friday. Last year when Reeves made similar vetoes, several elected officials argued that his action was unconstitutional, though it never was challenged in court.

The arguments over the vetoes’ constitutionality delve deep into the inner workings of the Legislature and nuances of the types of bills lawmakers typically consider.

The Mississippi Constitution gives the governor the clear authority to issue partial vetoes of appropriations bills. In the past, that partial veto authority has been limited, though the state Supreme Court, in a ruling on other partial vetoes by Reeves in 2021, expanded it.

In his veto message of those five projects on Friday, Reeves claimed House Bill 603 is an improperly written appropriations bill.

But he added, “Mindful of the need for much of the funding authorized by House Bill 603 and preserving the legal arguments raised in this message, I will choose to treat HB 603 as a properly presented appropriations bill. In treating HB 603 as such, I fully understand that given the opportunity, the Mississippi Supreme Court may opine that this bill has not been properly presented to the governor.”

READ MORE: Senate can’t muster votes to override Gov. Tate Reeves’ 2022 vetoes

While Reeves claims HB 603 is an improperly constructed appropriations bill, the Legislature refers to HB 603 as a “transfer bill” and not an appropriations bill. The bulk amount of money appropriated for the multiple projects across the state can be found in the bill providing appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year for the Department of Finance and Administration. House Bill 603 does not appropriate the money from the state treasury, but instructs DFA how to disburse those funds.

For that reason, House Speaker Philip Gunn and others made arguments that Reeves’ similar partial vetoes from last year were improper. This year, Reeves is arguing that the bill itself is improper, and if his vetoes are challenged, the constitutionality of the entire bill might be considered by the state Supreme Court.

The vetoed items are:

  • $2 million for the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in Jackson. This marks the second year in a row Reeves has vetoed an earmark for the capital city’s planetarium.
  • $500,000 for the city of Greenville for improvements to Frisby Park, Greenville Municipal, Maude Bryan Park and Rounds Park.
  • $300,000 for a destination marketing tourism program for local governments.
  •  $600,000 to Greene County for renovations and repairs to the Greene County Rural Events Center.
  • $500,000 to WISPR Systems in Batesville to expand unmanned aircraft systems manufacturing in Mississippi.

While Reeves vetoed those projects, he allowed literally hundreds of other projects — including some very similar to the ones he vetoed — across the state to become law.

“This funding includes proposals I vetoed last year, projects that are not within the proper role of state government, and projects that I believe are not in the taxpayers’ best interest,” Reeves said in a statement. “I will continue to be a watchdog on behalf of the taxpayers when it comes to their money.”

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

The Friday night veto message was confusing in the sense he also vetoed projects that were vetoed last year. Those projects were included in legislation that was designed “to correct errors” in the more than 280 projects approved in the 2022 session. In the veto message, the governor said he was not sure those projects needed to be vetoed again, but out of an abundance of caution he was doing so.

One of those projects was $13.3 million to develop a nature trail connecting parks and museums, to build a golf course and to make other improvements in the LeFleur’s Bluff area of Jackson.

The governor did not veto a $13 million appropriation for the LeFleur’s Bluff project this year, but the state funds will reportedly not be used for golf course construction — Reeves’ biggest gripe about last year’s project that he vetoed.

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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.