September 22, 2012 7:45:41 PM
JACKSON -- Gov. Phil Bryant has blocked lawmakers' attempt to send $3 million from the Mississippi Development Authority budget to the proposed Grammy museum in Cleveland.
House and Senate Appropriations Committee chairmen sent a May 25 letter to the authority saying legislators intended for MDA to give $3 million to the museum.
Such letters, called budget notes by Capitol insiders, have been an accepted though infrequent practice in past years.
Bryant told the economic development agency to disregard the request in a June 20 letter. Spokesman Mick Bullock says Bryant considers all budget notes improper, a position that could amplify tensions between the governor and the Legislature.
"The problem starts when legislators demand that agencies spend money on a particular project, through letters and other communication not available to the general public, and then threaten to punish agencies that do not obey," Bullock wrote in a Friday email. "It is bad policy and evidence of a broken budget system that badly needs to be fixed."
Bullock said Bryant had no problem with footnotes in actual budget bills.
Bryant also said $3 million is too much to take from MDA and that it's illegal to give money to the museum's parent, the private Cleveland Music Foundation, without express permission from the Legislature. Instead he wants the museum to apply for a $1 million grant.
At least one past budget note reviewed by The Associated Press directed money to a private charity.
Bullock said Bryant and former MDA interim director Jim Barksdale will help the museum raise $2 million from donors, on top of $5 million in private money the foundation already planned to raise for the $15 million project.
"The governor has not talked to us and he is on the board of directors," said foundation President Lucy Janoush.
The museum, styled after Los Angeles' Grammy Museum, would use interactive exhibits to commemorate Mississippi's musical heritage and attract tourists to the Delta region.
Janoush said the city of Cleveland has committed $3 million and Bolivar County has committed $1 million. The foundation sought $6 million in bonds from the state.
But lawmakers authorized no bonds for anything after House leaders were unable to agree with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves on how much to borrow. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said leaders agreed to add $3 million to the MDA budget for the museum. Legislation didn't name the museum, but after the session, Clarke and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, wrote the letter.
"You don't want to call them oversights, but these things happen in a massive budget," Clarke said. "We're not doing anything underhanded. We're just trying to fix something."
Clarke and Reeves agree that Bryant doesn't have to follow a budget note.
"We understand the letter is a request," Clarke said.
As for saying that giving money to a private foundation is illegal without legislation specifying the gift, Clarke said that if MDA can give a grant of $1 million, it should be able to give $3 million.
The $3 million shifted MDA's budget from what would have been a $2.1 million cut to an $859,000 increase. Spokesman Dan Turner said giving $3 million to the museum would require generalized cuts.
But the denial is already sparking scrutiny of MDA's spending request for the 2014 budget year.
"The reality is they have to come back through the legislative process next year." Reeves said.
Clarke said he'll seek other ways to pay for the museum.
"I want the project funded and it's being held up," Clarke said. "This is my Senate district where the project is going to be."
Clarke didn't criticize Bryant, but noted Reeves is his "real boss."
Reeves and Bryant have a sometimes rocky relationship. In March, after a Senate committee stripped money from the governor's mansion budget, a reporter saw Bryant storm into Reeves' office and verbally attack Parks McNabb, Reeves' director of legislative affairs.
In 2011, Reeves' top Republican primary opponent for lieutenant governor was then-Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport. When Bryant was lieutenant governor, Hewes was his chief lieutenant.
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