Thursday, January 11, 2007
The House came out swinging this morning, passing five bills through floor votes. The most significant bill the House passed was was HB 238, fully funding The Mississippi Adequate Education Program with more than $2 billion. After an hour-long debate, the vote passed 119 to 1, with only Republican Rep. Steve Horne, of Meridian, holding out in opposition.
Lawmakers like Rep. Jim Ellington, R-Raymond, voiced some concern at the idea of fully funding MAEP this early in the session, saying he would prefer to see the final revenue estimate in March before going forward with the vote. He and others consoled their fears with the belief that the Senate would delay its own approval of the bill well into the session.
"The state Treasurer (Tate Reeves) says he'd like to have at least two more months' data … that he would love to have the January or February figures. I'm going to vote to send this bill on forward, and I have all the faith that (The Senate) will … go slow on it to get these extra two months of revenue estimates in before approving it."
Other representatives, such as Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, acknowledged during debates that they weren't about to side against the bill and said on the podium that House members were literally "fighting over nothing."
The vote followed a rally of hundreds of people on the steps of the Capitol. The Parent's Campaign and other education advocates helped organize an impressive head count from counties all over the state, who marched on the Capitol from the nearby fairgrounds.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, joined legislators such as House Education Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, in shouting over the crowd. Ryan pointed out that it was an election year, and therefore—unlike in the past years—MAEP would likely be fully funded in the Senate.
Bryan acknowledged that the idea of fully funding the program is very popular with Mississippians, and then unleashed a veiled threat upon senators who might not fund MAEP by announcing the names of the few senators who backed the funding bill during the last session.
"If one of your senators is on this list, please call them and give them your thanks … if one of your senators was not on this list, please find them and reason with him or her. Your senators, regardless of how they voted, need to hear from you, and you need to encourage those who could not find strength in 2004 or 2005 to join with about 80 people over in the House who are ready to fully fund education and let's see if we can get this done this year."
While Bryan's threat may have been veiled, Sen. Ezell Lee, D- Picayune, used no subtlety.
"I'm embarrassed to say this, but if you have a legislator whose name is not on this list, they're probably going to vote for MAEP now because it is an election year, but those are closet supporters of education, and we don't need that in the state of Mississippi. If our children are not more important than that then we need to get out of the business. … You have enough teachers in your district to elect anybody you want," Lee said.
One of other four bills, HB 241, was a holdover from a stalled floor vote on the first day of the session. All are education-related. HB 241 offers one-time money for universities, as does HB 242. HB 246 authorizes the issuance of bonds for community and junior college capital improvements, and HB 239 authorizes and finances a statewide teacher's salaries increase.
More details and photos are at the JFP's new StateDesk political wire.
FINALLY. I admit bias, I was a lobbyist 2 years ago fightning for fully funding MAEP. I am glad NOW it may pass fully funded. It makes me ill though the elected officials that then would not talk to me or even promised a vote and traded it for a project that are now jumping up and down yelling about educational funding. As citizens we need to hold our elected representatives more accountable. Case in point a certain Senator that begged for support for his brother, got his brother into the house, and is now switching to the GOP. TO HELL WITH HIM and a hope of sending him home to work, not live on our dollars and lobbyist's expense accounts.