Legislature balances budget in waning days

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As you read this, the 2015 Legislative session may be over.
If not, it’s close to sine die, which this year is scheduled for Easter Sunday.
Last weekend, conference committees worked all day Saturday to make sure the budget bills were finished and other bills had Senate and House differences ironed out. We began voting on measures Sunday afternoon.
You may know our state Constitution requires a balanced budget every year. This requirement makes the end of session negotiations urgent. Often, we do not always know the actual revenue amounts until the last week. On schedule, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee met last week and adopted revisions to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 General Fund Revenue Estimate up $101.6 million and the FY2016 General Fund Revenue Estimate up $30 million.
Unfortunately, the public education bill had already been sent to the governor for his signature and is still $210 million below MAEP requirements.
Many of us were shocked when the Institutions of Higher Learning Board fired University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones. On every quantifiable measure, Chancellor Jones has performed his job supremely well. The University is flush with endowments, registration is up, academic levels of income freshmen are up – even the athletic teams are performing at optimum level.
I joined with my colleagues in the House in signing a letter urging the IHL to reconsider their act.
At this writing, nothing the IHL has presented for justification of their decision makes the action acceptable. Like my fellow Ole Miss graduates, and tens of thousands of other supporters, I urge the IHL to reinstate Dr. Jones and extend his term of service for four more years – the normal contract extension for a University president.
We simply cannot afford the unfair treatment of a remarkable and successful university leader to stand.
Like others in the Legislature, I am in favor of reviewing the purpose and authority of the Institutions of Higher Learning agency. This agency was composed in reaction to rash political interference with Mississippi’s colleges and universities back in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, the current circumstances leave the public wondering if the same thing is occurring now, only dressed in different clothing.
On a happier note, I am pleased to report that House Bill 389 has been signed into law. As of July 1, it will be illegal for drivers to text or access social media while driving. Many statistics point to this type of distracted driving as being more deadly than even driving while intoxicated. I am hopeful that our highways and byways will be safer because of this measure.
The governor has signed House Bill 825, which allegedly revises the Personal Service Contract Review Board. This measure originated in the House and was the second attempt by Rep. Jerry Turner to clean up the personal service contract business in state government.
The original bill contained strong transparency and accountability language. We felt it would pass both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly in the wake of the shocking Corrections scandal of November. That scandal exposed massive corruption that was directly related to the state’s no-bid personal service contract system.
What was returned to us by the Senate bore little resemblance to the original measure. Basically, the Senate version requires a new form to be signed for personal service contracts. Hopefully, we will be able to revisit this next year and strengthen the laws.
Toward the end of the week, we held a reception to honor the 15 members of the House and the five members of the Senate who are retiring after this Session.
Rep. Cecil Brown calculated that the retiring members served a total of 321 years – 277 in the House and 44 in the Senate. Those of us in our first terms were struck by the level of leadership on display among the retirees. This group of legislators were successful because they knew how to work across the aisles and find the common ground to govern fairly and appropriately. We would do well to emulate their example in the future.
Please feel free to contact me on these or any other measures before the Legislature. Please call me at (662) 287-1620, email nbain@house.ms.gov, message me on FaceBook at Nicholas Ryan Bain or follow me on Twitter @StateRepBain.

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