Special session: Let’s not get into foolishness

Gov. Haley Barbour is right to say it is “foolish and wrongheaded” for any state lawmakers to tie the fate of an employment agency to a dispute over state advertising.

Speaking to the Mississippi Economic Council on Wednesday, Barbour warned that House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, blocking reauthorization of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security during the regular legislative session just ended could have expensive repercussions.

If the agency isn’t reauthorized by the beginning of the next fiscal year July 1, it will cease officially to exist.

Negotiations to reauthorize the department failed at the end of the session when House Democrats and Senate Republicans could not agree on oversight guidelines.

Democrats were incensed that taxpayer money is used to advertise on talk radio shows that criticize members of their party.

More broadly, McCoy says the governor should support a plan to bring more public scrutiny to how public dollars are spent. And he has openly wondered if 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.

McCoy has a point, up to a point. An October report by the Legislature’s watchdog Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee says it cost taxpayers $14 million in 2006 to advertise state services. But there are no state laws or regulations that require agencies to determine if an advertising need exists before contracting with media outlets. And there are no criteria for determining if such contracting is beneficial, it said.

But is a limited special session costing taxpayers more than $38,000 per day the time to look into advertising expenses?

Should people who are out of work and desperately needing the agency’s unemployment checks be the ones who should bear the brunt of this political battle? Or the workers’ employers who fund unemployment, as Barbour noted?

It is “foolish and wrongheaded” to hold a state agency hostage to a purely partisan political battle.

Clarion Ledger
5/9/8