Thursday, January 24, 2008
Report from the MS House of Representatives
By Rep. Kelvin Buck
The naming of members to House committees, a vote to reduce the length of the 2008 session and the inauguration of Gov. Haley R. Barbour for his second term highlighted week two of the Legislature. We also voted to adopt rules for the operation of the House during the next four years, including some limited webcasting of House debates.
We in the House of Representatives voted to set the calendar of legislation at 103 days, rather than the 125 days called for in Section 36 of the Mississippi Constitution for the first session of a new term. The Senate had passed SCR 502 at 104 days. The Senate concurred with the House’s change to 103 days and now the session will sine die adjourn on Saturday, April 19. It is estimated that by cutting 22 days from the session’s length will save taxpayers up to $300,000 this year. When Kirk Fordice was governor, the Legislature reduced the length of the first session of his second term in office by 25 days.
The Legislature operates on a system of deadlines for which action on bills must be met. Years ago, there was no deadline system and sessions often lasted well into the summer. The 1968 Legislature changed that to a deadline-oriented system.
This move will speed up consideration of measures that will be introduced during this session, particularly now that we know our committee assignments.
On Tuesday of the session’s second week, we witnessed the inauguration of Gov. Haley Barbour for his second term.
Barbour pointed to what he considers are some of his administration’s accomplishments during his first term: eliminating a budget shortfall; reversing a trend of losing jobs with a net gain of 50,000 jobs in those four years; and passing tort reform which he said helped to ease a health-care crisis.
About Hurricane Katrina, from which the state continues to recover, Barbour said: “Obviously no one could have known we’d bear the brunt of the worst natural disaster in American history. And when it happened nearly two and a half years ago, I didn’t realize this awful catastrophe, something you wouldn’t wish on your own worst enemy, would actually do more to improve Mississippi’s image than anything that has happened in my lifetime; or that in the wake of the devastation, there would come more opportunity for our state to move forward than any living generation of Mississippians has known. But by God’s grace, that’s what is happening.
“You see, Katrina, this worst natural disaster in our country’s history, revealed the spirit and character of the people of Mississippi . . . or, more accurately put, Mississippi’s response to Katrina revealed that character and spirit. It was revealed that ours are a strong, resilient, self-reliant people . . . courageous and compassionate.”
During a briefing from state fiscal experts this week, we learned there are mixed signs as to how the state is progressing financially. The state economist said sales tax collections are on the decline and the subprime lending crisis is hurting our state as well with declining home values, slower sales of homes and a rash of foreclosures. Gaming collections are a major bright spot with record revenues expected for the industry, meaning more tax revenue for the state.
To meet our revenue projections for the current FY 2008, the state’s economy must grow by 2 percent the rest of the year, and that may not happen.
On another fiscal note, State Treasurer Tate Reeves said that the state now owes $3.191 billion in total bonded indebtedness, but that the debt has leveled off since 2001. He said the national bond rating firms are pleased with our current debt situation because we mostly issue “net direct general obligation bonds” backed by the full faith and credit of the state. Our debt service consumes 6.7 percent of our total state appropriations, Reeves reported.
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