Lawmakers have adjourned, for the time being in the 2020 Legislative Session, without a budget for the Department of Marine Resources, once again.
The debate over approving the department’s budget stems from a disagreement within the Legislature on how GOMESA projects should be directed, either through the Legislature or by the Governor. This same point of contention caused lawmakers to leave in July without a budget set for the department.
“I’ll tell you my heart breaks for the personnel that work for DMR they don’t deserve to be put through this fight. They don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from. We need to put people before politics,” said Governor Tate Reeves on the lack of a DMR budget. He said he was surprised that lawmakers left the Capitol without ensuring that was set.
State Senator Scott DeLano (R) said since adjournment in July much progress has been made on the DMR budget, but House and Senate conferees are still not quite in agreement. He said lawmakers have been made aware that the agency could continue to function with no additional deferments or furloughs.
DeLano told Y’all Politics that a group of lawmakers met with DMR last week to gain an understanding of where the agency stood in respect to temporary funding. He said they were asked how long the department could continue to function under the current executive order.
“Based on that conversation and others with people from the Legislative Budget Office, we were not concerned with any type of agency shut down in the event we couldn’t get the budget worked out during this part of session,” said DeLano.
The Coast senator said a major priority for him is to see backpay due to employees of DMR paid out soon. That sentiment, he said, was something shared by members of both the House and Senate.
GOMESA stands for Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. It was created in 2006. Under this act, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas all get a cut of revenue that is generated from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nearly $51 million in GOMESA funds were designated to Mississippi in April of 2020.
In the past, the Governor’s office has worked with DMR to coordinate projects and funding. A list was not required by the Legislature of those projects, but it seems now that method is not acceptable within the House. Leadership in the House insisted that GOMESA projects be listed in the DMR Appropriations Bill.
Governor Reeves also seemed to be under the impression that some members of the House had interest in controlling the funds for some projects. He added that this is the way the GOMESA funds have been handled for the last 15 years and he thought after the House’s first attempt to change that in July, they would have recognized the need to set a budget and put that fight aside by this point.
This is not the first-time lawmakers have shown a desire to have GOMESA funds listed. The issue came up nearly two sessions ago.
According to Speaker Gunn, the House offered three proposals that might solve the issues, but between chambers they could not get past the GOMESA.
“We offered the Senate three different proposals in an effort to resolve the disagreement over the DMR budget. All of which we firmly believe were very reasonable and would have funded DMR,” said Speaker Gunn. “The sticking point seems to be the appropriation of the GOMESA funds specifically the remaining unallocated funds. The position of the House is that it is not good public policy to allow any one person to have unfettered control over $46,000,000.00 without any oversight or checks and balances. We would hope the Senate would have the same belief. Today’s negotiations did not lead to an agreement so we will continue to work over the coming months in hopes of reaching a resolution.”
In a Facebook live video, State Senator Brice Wiggins (R) said it was the position of the Senate to continue to allow the Governor to have the ability to coordinate and oversee those projects with DMR.
“The Governor has had a good track record in dealing with the Coast and the Senate certainly understands that and has faith that that will continue,” said Wiggins.
The Governor has also publicly agreed with the Senate’s position on the matter.
Wiggins said Monday night the Senate sent a conference report on the DMR budget to the House which offered their own proposal on the matter, an advisory committee. This committee was created similarly to what has been done with the GCRF funds and others, a move the Legislature has agreed to concerning other such funding. The House rejected that report, Wiggins said.
“I’ll be the first to say, the Governor’s office has been open to working with us on getting this resolved,” said Senator DeLano. He added that there is a possibility that they will return to the capitol before the October 5 date whether by a call of leadership or the Governor.
Governor Reeves has the authority to call a Special Session of the Legislature at any time with a narrow, specific agenda.
“I do have the opportunity to call a Special Session and we are in conversations about doing that but no final decision has been made. It honestly feels forced to look at that option at this point,” said Reeves.