March 5, 2009
JACKSON -- The Republican-controlled state Senate will likely block the House''s attempt to accept all of the $2.8 billion Mississippi is projected to get for helping fund government services and assist people struggling through the economic recession.
After three hours of exhausting debate Wednesday, the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives voted 69-52 for a measure to override Republican Gov. Haley Barbour if he rejects any of the money being offered to Mississippi.
"I think that will have a tough time getting through the Senate," said Senate President Pro Tempore Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport.
While Barbour has said he''ll agree to take most of the $2.8 billion in economic stimulus funds, he doesn''t want about $58 million to expand unemployment benefits to people not willing or able to work full-time.
He maintains this would force Mississippi to eventually increase the unemployment insurance tax assessed on businesses by $16 million a year to pay for this expansion when federal funds run out.
"Business owners and employees across the state should know House Democrats today voted to increase taxes on employment. Any economist will tell you that''s about the worst thing you can do in a recession," Barbour said in a statement he issued Wednesday.
Of the $2.8 billion directly earmarked for Mississippi, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also provides about $790 million for Medicaid, $785 million for education and $380 million for transportation construction, according to estimates provided by the Mississippi Legislature.
House Democratic Leader Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, said Mississippi needs everything it can get to pull the state through the nation''s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"We need some help. We need some money to solve these problems," Ellis told the House on Wednesday. "We need to recover from where we''ve fallen down, and we need to reinvest in America. I thought Mississippi was a part of America and not some Third World country."
However, Republicans say Mississippi should not accept all the money without reading the federal economic stimulus law''s fine print and requirements for accepting the money.
"We want to make sure of what we''re signing up for and what the long-term effects are," Hewes said.
GOP Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant -- who presides over the Senate -- supports Barbour''s decision against expanding unemployment pay.
"We understand how important that stimulus money is," Bryant said. "But we also understand there''s part of it we don''t want that''s going to tie strings to the state of Mississippi that make us pay people who don''t work -- and we''re just not going to take that."
However, Ellis noted the only work available for many people during this recession are part-time jobs. People who lose jobs might also be going to school and can''t work full-time.
"It''s not like somebody''s out here just goofing off and they want to go and sign up and get an unemployment check," he said. "It''s not about people just sitting around and being lazy and not working, as some would have you to think."
Barbour has accepted the federal bailout package''s provisions for increasing by $25 the weekly jobless payments for unemployed people and extending by 33 weeks the normal period they''re eligible to receive the money. The maximum weekly jobless check in Mississippi is $230.
Ellis said the Senate -- which has 27 Democrats and 25 Republicans -- could concur with the House''s resolution. "Hopefully, they''ll have a change of heart once they get all the facts," he said.
All 69 House members who voted for the resolution are Democrats, and 47 Republicans were joined by four Democrats voting against it.
House Concurrent Resolution 64 to accept all the money -- including what Gov. Haley Barbour rejects -- provided to Mississippi by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help the state through the economic recession:
--Esther Harrison, D-Columbus: For
--Jeff Smith, D-Columbus: For
--Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville: For
--David Gibbs, D-West Point: For
--Reecy Dickson, D-Macon: For
--Jimmy Puckett, D-Amory: For
--Donnie Bell, D-Fulton: For
--Russ Nowell, D-Louisville: For
--Gary Chism, R-Columbus: Against
--Jim Beckett, R-Bruce: Against
--Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman: Against