Mississippi budget: Reeves approves some projects, chops others

Published 6:21 pm Monday, April 24, 2023

Mississippi’s Republican governor has approved most of a $6.6 billion state budget contained in dozens of spending bills but has vetoed a few projects and questioned whether legislators properly passed the final bill of their session.

The bill had hundreds of millions of dollars in government spending for things like repairs to university buildings and disaster preparedness. Gov. Tate Reeves approved most of the projects, while also vetoing some items.

Reeves said the session’s final measure, House Bill 603, is “plainly an appropriations bill” and legislators passed it four days before the session ended. The state constitution says appropriations bills can’t be passed during a session’s final five days.

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Reeves said it violated another constitutional provision that says appropriations bills cannot include general changes to state law.

“The presence of these Constitutional defects calls into serious question whether House Bill 603 has been lawfully presented to the Governor,” he wrote in his veto message Friday.

But he said he signed most of the bill because it contains “a number of critical provisions,” including $6.5 million to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s emergency trust fund and another $7 million for temporary emergency housing through the agency. He said the money is needed to recover from the March 24 tornadoes, which killed 13 people and caused at least $100 million of insured losses.

Universities around the state will get $193.3 million for campus construction and renovation. Community colleges will get $40 million for similar projects. The state departments of corrections, health and mental health would together get $45.5 million for renovations. Other state-owned properties would get $33.3 million to make repairs.

House Speaker Philip Gunn’s hometown is among the biggest beneficiaries. The city of Clinton is receiving $20 million toward its share of a water and sewer plant expansion project with Raymond, Bolton and Edwards. The city also gets $8 million for streets, lighting and other infrastructure for a site being developed near I-20.

Gunn, a Republican, is not seeking reelection to the House this year.

Lawmakers passed dozens of bills to spend state money during the year that begins July 1. House Bill 603 was the only one in which Reeves vetoed new spending.

Among the projects Reeves vetoed were $2 million to repair and renovate a planetarium in Jackson, and $500,000 to renovate three parks in Greenville.

He nixed $500,000 to the Mississippi Development Authority to expand manufacturing of drones by WISPR Systems in Batesville, and $300,000 to the state Department of Finance and Administration to help a company develop a mobile app promoting tourism.

The governor also vetoed $600,000 to help pay for rehabilitation and repair of the Greene County Rural Events Center.

Legislators ended their session in early April. They could try to override the vetoes when they return for their regular session next January, or sooner if the governor calls them back for a special session. Overriding a veto would take a two-thirds vote of the Republican-controlled House and Senate.