Lawmakers override Tate Reeves’ school funding veto, pass new bill

Published 6:34 am Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mississippi legislators returned to the Capitol on Monday and resolved a dispute over education funding for the budget year that began July 1.

They also expanded a grant program for businesses that have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the minimum award from $1,500 to $3,500.

House and Senate negotiators discussed a budget for the Department of Marine Resources, but did not reach a resolution by late Monday. Talks were expected to continue Tuesday.

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Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on July 8 vetoed big parts of the education budget because legislators did not fund a bonus pay program for teachers in schools that either maintain high academic performance or show significant improvement.

House and Senate leaders said the omission of the bonus funding was an oversight and the governor’s veto was unnecessary because they intended to fund the program in a few months, in time for teachers to receive the extra pay.

On Monday, the Republican-controlled House and Senate both voted to override Reeves’ partial veto of the education budget. With a two-thirds majority needed in each chamber, House members voted 109-17 for the override and senators voted 41-1.

It was the first time since 2002 for legislators to override a governor’s veto. At that time, Democrat Ronnie Musgrove was governor and Democrats still controlled both chambers of the Legislature.

On Monday, the House and Senate passed a separate bill to fund the bonus pay for more than 23,000 teachers.

The first-year governor said Monday that he’s not surprised about the override. Reeves said some House members have hard feelings against him because he pushed conservative legislation the previous eight years as lieutenant governor.

“If individual members of the House want to punch me in the face, if they want to stab me in the back, that’s fine,” Reeves said. “As long as those teachers get the money.”

Negotiations about the Department of Marine Resources budget originally stalled just before legislators left the Capitol on July 1 because the House and Senate clashed over how to spend $40 million a year that the state receives from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Reeves also vetoed parts of a bill that allocated federal relief money for the coronavirus pandemic, but legislators were not expected to try to override that action. Instead, a fight over the issue will move forward in the courts.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, who are both Republican, sued Reeves last week, arguing that his action was improper because the governor cannot veto portions of budget bills that deal with conditions for how money is spent.