Tate Reeves’ first confrontation as governor with the Mississippi Legislature was not just a defeat. It was a shellacking.
By a unanimous vote in the House and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate, the Legislature speedily let Reeves know who’s going to be boss when it comes to spending state money, and it’s not going to be him. Even if Reeves decides to veto Friday’s action, he’s likely to be overridden.
Lawmakers acted quickly to stop Reeves’ plan to decide how all $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money the state is receiving to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic would be used. They left him with discretion on $100 million, but the other $1.15 billion will go through the normal legislative appropriation process.
Both sides in this dispute had a legitimate argument. Reeves said it’s difficult to manage an emergency by committee. With the Legislature in charge of spending decisions, it will reduce his ability to act nimbly to deal with the pandemic. Legislative leaders, meanwhile, didn’t like the idea of Reeves hiring consultants to manage the spending, and giving them — perhaps as a reward for supporting him during last year’s election — a slice of the money.
Interestingly, the last two GOP governors — Phil Bryant and Haley Barbour — were not checked this way when they had emergency money to spend after major disasters. What’s different this time?
Reeves has to be asking himself that.