Mississippi lawmakers leave without Marine Resources budget

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi legislators left the Capitol on Tuesday without setting a budget for the state Department of Marine Resources.

The agency will continue to operate by using federal money, as it has since the state budget year started July 1.

Talks between the House and Senate stalled over questions of who has the authority to spend millions of dollars the state receives for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the past, the governor has controlled the money. But, Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said the Mississippi Constitution makes clear that legislators have the power to set budgets.

“It’s not right for one person to have $40 million to pass out like he wants to,” Gunn told reporters Tuesday.

Legislators are usually not in session this time of year. They returned to the Capitol on Monday for the first time since July 1, with a goal of finishing final parts of the state budget.

They did resolve a dispute over education funding. They also expanded a grant program for businesses that have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the minimum award from $1,500 to $3,500.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on July 8 vetoed big parts of the education budget because legislators did not fund a bonus pay program for teachers in schools that either maintain high academic performance or show significant improvement.

House and Senate leaders said the omission of the bonus funding was an oversight and the governor’s veto was unnecessary because they intended to fund the program in a few months, in time for teachers to receive the extra pay.

On Monday, the Republican-controlled House and Senate both voted to override Reeves’ partial veto of the education budget. With a two-thirds majority needed in each chamber, House members voted 109-17 for the override and senators voted 41-1.

It was the first time since 2002 that legislators voted to override a governor’s veto. At that time, Democrat Ronnie Musgrove was governor and Democrats still controlled both chambers of the Legislature.

On Monday, the House and Senate passed a separate bill to fund the bonus pay for more than 23,000 teachers.

As legislators left Tuesday, it was not immediately clear when they would return to finish the Marine Resources budget.

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