Barbour pushes for civil rights museum funding

March 31, 2011 3:54:00 PM



JACKSON - Gov. Haley Barbour is pressing lawmakers to resolve funding for a Mississippi civil rights museum and a comprehensive state history museum, saying he wants both to be open in downtown Jackson when the state marks its bicentennial in 2017. 




"These will be very popular and they''ll also help Mississippi tell the civil rights story, which will be very good for our image," Barbour told reporters Thursday at the Capitol. 




The two museums would be side-by-side a few blocks from the Capitol and would share a parking garage, an auditorium and a gift shop, Barbour said. 




The governor said he plans to call a special session within the regular legislative session next week for the House and Senate to consider a bond bill to fund the museums. 




Legislators are trying to wrap up their three-month annual gathering. 




House and Senate leaders say it''s possible they''ll reach a compromise on funding for the museums as part of their regular session work. To do that, they''d need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to revive a bond bill that''s dead. 




Barbour said it probably would be faster and easier to start with a new bill during a special session. 




The state issues bonds to take on long-term debt for projects such as construction of public buildings. 




Talks about the museums have stalled because of a disagreement about whether the two buildings should be fully funded by the state or funded partially by private donations. 




The House passed a $55 million bond bill that would pay to build both museums and a parking lot. The Senate was pushing for $30 million in state funding that would be available only after $15 million came from private donors for the combined museum project. 




Barbour said Thursday that he wants the state to fully fund construction of the museum, then seek private dollars to help fill the museums with artifacts. 




That''s a change from Barbour''s original position in 2007, when he mentioned a proposal for a civil rights museum during his State of the State address. 




"I consider it very important for the private sector to help pay for this museum," Barbour said four years ago. 




Asked Thursday about his evolving position, Barbour said: "The people we talked to, the foundations we talked to, were very interested but they were not interested in participating in the construction. They were interested in participating after it was built." 




Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said Thursday he''s not sure the Senate will pass funding for the museums unless there''s an up-front requirement for partial private funding. 




Barbour, a Republican, is a potential 2012 presidential candidate. He renewed calls for a civil rights museum early this year, weeks after coming under fire for comments in a magazine article in which critics said he downplayed the dangers of the civil rights era in Mississippi.