Remember when Ray Charles and Norah Jones won a Grammy award in 2005 for their moving rendition of “Here we go again,” the country music standard written by Don Lanier and Red Steagall?
Reckon Gov. Tate Reeves could team up with Jones for a new 2020 rendition? He seems determined to sing the same old song:
“I've been there before
And I will try it again
Any fool, any fool knows
That there's no, no way to win.”
When Reeves earlier this year issued controversial “partial vetoes” on the CARES Act appropriation bill, many legislators started humming “Here we go again.”
Then, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court to throw out the vetoes. While the Mississippi Constitution does authorize governors to “veto parts of any appropriation bill,” for over a hundred years the Mississippi Supreme Court has consistently limited this power. So, Gunn and White contend, as “Any fool knows,” there’s no way for Reeves to win since the Chancery Court and, on appeal, the Supreme Court will follow historical precedent.
The Supreme Court has allowed partial vetoes when the vetoed language has been distinct and separable from the rest of the appropriation.
Also, an important distinction this year is that Reeves vetoed part of the education appropriation bill too. Rather than go to court, Gunn chose to override that veto. By taking it up, the Legislature implied that partial veto was legitimate.
What did Reeves veto?
He cut $2 million set aside for the North Oak Regional Medical Center in Senatobia or its successor because it "closed its doors long before the COVID-19 outbreak and, to date, has not provided any treatment to patients with COVID-19.” Reeves said this did not fit within the scope of CARES Act guidelines.
He cut $6 million set aside for the MAGnet Community Health Disparity Program because “I am unaware of this Program.”
(A little research would have told him that MAGnet is a consortium of five Federally Qualified Health Centers in Mississippi that came together in 2011 to pursue grants to reduce health disparities in underserved communities. The $6 million was designated “to address the disproportionate impact on the minority community of coronavirus infections and deaths from COVID-19,” clearly within the scope of CARES Act guidelines.)
Reeves argues the two items he vetoed are distinct and separable. Gunn and White argue they are congruent parts of the whole appropriation. (See legal briefs at https://yallpolitics.com/2020/09/24/briefs-filed-by-governor-and-speaker-outline-legal-arguments-over-line-item-vetoes/)
The courts will likely take little notice of the intended uses of items vetoed. The medical center appropriation does look questionable under CARES Act guidelines while the health centers appropriation looks both worthy and needed.
Without a quick court decision, it won’t matter. These CARES Act funds must be spent by December 30.
Still and all, hearing Norah and Tate sing would be welcome relief to all the politics surrounding pandemic.
“It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” – Proverbs 20:3.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.