Barbour, McCoy tussle over ad contracts, employment agency

Gov. Haley Barbour says some lawmakers are being “foolish and wrongheaded” to tie the fate of an employment agency to a dispute over state advertising.

But House Speaker Billy McCoy says the governor should support a plan to bring more public scrutiny to how public dollars are spent. McCoy, D-Rienzi, said he wonders whether Barbour and Senate leaders are trying to protect friends whose companies make money from advertising contracts.

“A bit dog is hollering the most,” McCoy told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

As the regular legislative session ended in mid-April, a bill to reauthorize the agency failed after House leaders tried to insert regulations about how state agencies spend advertising dollars.

Republican Barbour told hundreds of business people Wednesday at a Mississippi Economic Council meeting that employers will see a dramatic increase in their out-of-pocket expenses if the Mississippi Department of Employment Security goes out of existence this summer.

“Your unemployment insurance taxes you pay as an employer will go from 0.8 percent of your payroll to 6.2 percent of your payroll because we will no longer be eligible to collect on your behalf the federal government’s share,” Barbour said.

“We need you, Mississippians, your help to make sure that the state doesn’t do something stupid about employment security,” he said. “And I’m counting on you.”

Barbour will call lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session before the state budget year begins July 1. He wants them to keep the employment agency open and to fill a $90 million hole in the state Medicaid budget.

The Department of Employment Security is mostly funded by federal money. It handles job training programs and distributes unemployment payments.

Barbour said the House was targeting conservative talk radio stations that have sharply criticized McCoy and other Democrats.

“It’s bad politics to hurt the people who are unemployed and to take people who employ everybody in Mississippi and multiply their tax by a factor of eight,” Barbour said.

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said media companies that have state advertising contracts can keep the contracts if agencies demonstrate the ads are reaching the intended audience.

McCoy said the House plan never mentioned talk radio and was not aimed at stifling free speech, as conservative critics have said.

“We want to make sure the taxpayers get the most efficient, effective advertising possible for each agency,” McCoy said.

Daily Journal