Budget takes Mississippi lawmakers to the wire; Barbour could call special session

House leaders failed to extend the regular legislative session past midnight, with proponents saying the Legislature would cede control of the budget process to the governor if the resolution failed to pass.

The measure, which required a two-thirds vote of the 132-member House, failed on a 71-46 vote.

That means Barbour can call a special legislative session to consider only the matters of his choosing before the new budget year begins.

Barbour communications director Buddy Bynum said that if a special session is needed, the governor will call one only after legislative budget negotiators reach an agreement.

“I can’t believe that there are members who refuse to extend the session so we can fix this budget,” said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.

“The governor has been working for four months to get a special session,” McCoy said after the vote was taken and the House adjourned.

During that debate, House members learned of a complication raised by Ways and Means chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg.

Watson noted that language in the cigarette tax increase that legislators approved earlier in the session required that $27 million go to a fund that rebates money to counties to ease the cost of car tags.

House budget negotiator Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said Barbour had told him the car tag reduction money was not in his planned budget.

Bynum, however, said Barbour had agreed to devote $27 million toward car tag reduction with half coming from the state’s general fund and the rest from a proposed tax increase on smokeless tobacco and smaller cigarette companies that did not participate in the 1997 tobacco lawsuit settlement.

“We are facing a crisis July 1,” Brown said.

“University Hospital will shut down, state government will shut down, state employees won’t get paid.”

A frustrated Banking and Financial Services chairman George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, took a verbal shot at Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman who has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2012.

“How you going to run for president when your whole state is shut down?” Flaggs fumed.

Commercial Appeal