Attorney general: Barbour violates veto rules and hurts youth programs

Published 6:56 pm Friday, April 27, 2007

Gov. Haley Barbour’s partial vetoes of two budget bills are illegal and will undermine programs that help keep at-risk kids off the streets and out of trouble, Attorney General Jim Hood says.

“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Apparently, the governor’s got some people over there in his office with idle minds that are trying to cut out programs that are proven that work,” Hood, a Democrat, said Thursday during a news conference in his office.

Barbour, a Republican, vetoed parts of two budget bills this past Saturday — one for the attorney general’s office and one for the Department of Human Services. Both bills are for the state budget year that starts July 1.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The vetoes cover the same money, $5.5 million that was to be diverted from DHS to the attorney general’s office for youth programs. Since 2000, similar diversions have been made from DHS to the attorney general’s office, and the money has gone to Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and similar programs.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said the vetoes were intended to safeguard welfare money.

“This is not about the Boys and Girls Club,” Smith said Thursday. “This is about welfare money being used for its intended purpose, which is to help our most vulnerable citizens.”

Smith said the Boys and Girls Clubs provide “valuable programs,” and the governor is planning a golf event this year to raise money for the clubs.

Hood said the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled as recently as 2004 — in a case involving a 2002 veto by Barbour’s predecessor, Democrat Ronnie Musgrove — that a governor does not have the power to veto the parts of budget bills that put conditions on how money can be spent.

The 2004 ruling reflected the court’s 1995 decision in a case involving Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice. In 1993, Fordice tried to do partial vetoes of 27 budget bills, and a lawmaker challenged his action.

Hood said Barbour should have known about the court rulings.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” Hood said.

Smith responded later: “The governor wouldn’t have used his veto powers if he didn’t think he had the constitutional authority to do so.”

Hood’s office on Thursday issued an opinion in response to House Speaker Billy McCoy’s questions about Barbour’s two partial vetoes. An attorney general’s opinion does not carry the weight of law but is designed to provide public entities a level of protection in court.

The latest attorney general’s opinion says Barbour’s partial vetoes are “null and void,” and the two budget bills will become law as they were passed by the Legislature, meaning the $5.5 million will be transferred from DHS to the attorney general’s office and then sent to the youth programs.

Hood said he’ll file a chancery court challenge if the governor refuses to let the money be transferred.

Both Hood and Barbour are seeking re-election this year. Hood’s recently hired campaign manager is Jonathan Compretta, son of House Speaker Pro Tempore J.P. Compretta, D-Bay St. Louis.

Before starting work for the Hood campaign, Jonathan Compretta lobbied lawmakers to get the money routed from DHS to the attorney general’s office for the youth programs, Hood said. Jonathan Compretta worked as an assistant attorney general for Hood’s predecessor and left Mississippi for a few years to work for the national Boys and Girls Clubs.

The bills are House Bills 1681 and 1689.