Lawmakers rush to Jackson Friday to stop Tate Reeves from spending $1.25 billion in federal virus aid

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, April 30, 2020

The state’s budget and a wrestling match with the governor over $1.25 billion in federal virus relief funds will take priority when the Mississippi Legislature reconvenes Friday at 1 p.m.

The Legislature suspended its session March 17 out of concern for the COVID-19 virus. Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann initially announced Monday the session was to resume in Jackson by May 18 and close out the session that began Jan. 2. Gunn and Hosemann announced Thursday both houses would return to work Friday.

The hastened start certainly seemed tied to a power control struggle with Gov. Tate Reeves over how the state will spend the $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funds the U.S. Congress has allocated to Mississippi.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn sent a letter to the state Department of Finance Wednesday regarding the funds and putting a halt to any plans Reeves had for spending it while the Legislature was out of session.

“This letter is to inform you the Mississippi Legislature will be in session shortly to plan the constitutional appropriation of these funds to address Mississippi’s immediate and future needs in responding to the COVID-19 health and economic crisis,” Gunn and Hosemann wrote.

The contend the state has already received the funds and aimed to stop any spending without legislative oversight.

Reeves claims he doesn’t care about who oversees the federal money.

“I don’t really give a damn who is in charge of this money,” Reeves said during a news conference on Thursday. “What I care about is the people who need it, and they need it now.”

In addition to the squabble over federal stimulus money
When lawmakers return, they will be pushing against time to wrap up the remainder of the session and pass a budget.

There are only a few days remaining in the session and the state’s fiscal year ends June 30; the fiscal 2021 budget must be in place by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

“This will definitely be an interesting year,” District 55 Rep. Oscar Denton (D-Vicksburg) said. “I believe we have 40-something days left.”