State Politics

Coast wary of legislators who will look at budget, taxes

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, left, outlines the shared goals of fellow Republicans Gov. Phil Bryant, right, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for an overhaul of the budget and taxes.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, left, outlines the shared goals of fellow Republicans Gov. Phil Bryant, right, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for an overhaul of the budget and taxes. AP

The road to what Republican leaders like to call streamlined government begins Monday with a study group examining several of the state’s largest agencies.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn will be co-chairmen of a group of lawmakers, including Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes , D-Gulfport, and Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, who will meet Monday at the Capitol in Jackson.

They’ll be looking at the departments of Transportation, Health, Mental Health, Human Services, Corrections, Public Safety and Education; the Division of Medicaid; Institutions of Higher Learning; community colleges; boards and commissions; state facilities; and information technology consolidation.

At least one Coast lawmaker wonders if they might also be looking at the BP money that came to the state as part of the settlement for economic damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It also likely will deal with the “sweep” passed last session that put all fees and other money collected by agencies directly into the general fund. Tidelands fees collected on the Coast are among those swept up.

“We better be protecting the Tidelands fund and we better be protecting the BP fund,” said Rep. Scott DeLano of Biloxi. “Because I believe both of those are going to swept up into the general fund to be spend on everything.”

DeLano said he’d rather that money be spent on a Coast project such as fixing the sewer problem that periodically closes various sections of the beach.

“I get beach closings emailed to two or three times a week,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of this and I want to solve this problem and either do it with RESTORE Act money or we’re going to do it out of economic damages money.

“If nothing else happens with this BP money, I don’t want to get another beach closure notice because someone has a lift station that’s overflowing into the drainage system.”

The group was formed after revenue came in under projections last fiscal year, causing Gov. Phil Bryant to make several mid-year budget cuts. Then it was found there was a mistake in this fiscal year’s budget that means the state will have less money than anticipated.

The cuts to services such as mental health have been met with criticism from both parties.

Other members include Rep. Shane Aguirre, R-Tupelo; Judiciary A/En Banc Chairman Mark Baker, R-Brandon; Energy Chairwoman Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia; Revenue and Expenditure General Bills Chairman Mark Formby, R-Picayune; Rep. Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg; Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez; Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia; Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus; Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport; Senate Finance Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall; Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale; Highways and Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland; Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency Chairman John Polk, R-Hattiesburg; Senate Pro Tempore Terry C. Burton, R-Newton; Senate Public Health and Welfare Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl; Senate Elections Chairman Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven; Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven; and Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg.

A final member to be appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant will be announced Monday, according to the House information office.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton