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Proposed Constitutional Amendment Looks...

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Looks to Clarify Mississippi Gubernatorial Line-item Veto Authority

By: Frank Corder - February 22, 2024

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves explains to reporters some of the line items that he vetoed from the appropriations allocated by the state Legislature, Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • State Sen. Brice Wiggins has filed legislation that seeks to resolve the conflict between constitutional provisions caused by the Reeves v. Gunn ruling in 2020.

In December 2020, Governor Tate Reeves won a significant legal battle that effectively reinforced gubernatorial power through the use of line-item or partial vetoes, reintroducing the practice into the appropriations process and giving legislators pause. 

The initial case was brought by then-Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White after Reeves vetoed two provisions in House Bill 1782 related to $8 million in CARES Act appropriations passed by the Legislature earlier that year.

On appeal, a majority of the 9-member Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the favorable ruling Gunn and White received in Hinds County Chancery Court and agreed with Governor Reeves, “declaring that the veto of parts of House Bill 1782 was lawful under section 73 of our Constitution.”

Article 4, Section 73 of the Mississippi Constitution states, “The Governor may veto parts of any appropriation bill, and approve parts of the same, and the portions approved shall be law.”

Since that ruling, what is now known as Reeves v. Gunn has overshadowed the annual legislative appropriations process. Governor Reeves has used the power of the pen in subsequent sessions related to upwards of $23 million in spending he believed to be fiscally irresponsible or beyond the proper role of state government.

However, ambiguity remains as to the exact authority and reach a Mississippi Governor has regarding line-item or partial vetoes, particularly as it pertains to bills that are not specifically designated as appropriations bills using constitutional guidelines but do include government spending as well as instructions for the administration and appropriation of state funds.

State Senator Brice Wiggins, whose local municipality has been affected by a partial veto by Governor Reeves, has filed SC 529 which says the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling provided that the Governor has a “line-item veto” in an “appropriation bill” without clarifying which appropriation bills are subject to this veto power.

State Sen. Brice Wiggins

The City of Pascagoula, Wiggins’ hometown, requested $1 million to pay the costs associated with renovations of city offices. In his veto message of that spending as well as over $20 million more designated for other areas of the state, Governor Reeves said the projects he vetoed were not within the proper role of state government and were projects he believed were not in the taxpayers’ best interest. 

“Even in times of plenty, I believe we’re charged with the critical responsibility of properly stewarding taxpayer dollars,” said Governor Reeves in April 2023, adding, “I will continue to be a watchdog on behalf of the taxpayers when it comes to their money.”

Wiggins told Magnolia Tribune that those vetoes and the ones listed in Reeves v. Gunn brought to light the conflict between constitutional provisions. He said the constitutional amendment he’s proposing would help align the Governor’s veto authority with Sections 63 and 64 of the state Constitution.

“I give Governor Reeves credit for exercising the line-item veto for appropriations and I support the Governor having line-item veto power in appropriation bills,” Senator Wiggins said. “What unfortunately wasn’t clarified in the ruling was what was an appropriation bill and what was a general bill. The problem is that power can get abused. This is trying to rein in the power and define specifically the authority between the two branches of government.”

Wiggins believes there needs to be clarity on what is subject to a Governor’s line-item or partial veto and what is not, saying this effort is not aimed at Governor Reeves.

“It needs to be clarified because such battles between the executive branch and legislative branch are only going to continue,” Senator Wiggins said. “This is heading off a potentiality that may occur down the road whether it’s a Republican or Democratic governor. It’s not a jab at Governor Reeves; it’s simply an issue of branches – who has the power in these situations.”

As such, the Coast lawmaker wants to ask the citizens of Mississippi to approve an amendment to the state Constitution that would limit the types of appropriations bills subject to a Governor’s partial veto power as those which actually appropriate money from the State Treasury. Wiggins’ proposal would also prohibit a Governor from vetoing a condition set forth by the Legislature in an appropriation bill.

For the measure to reach the ballot it would need to receive a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the Legislature. Wiggins said he hopes the measure gets traction. 

“It’s been single referred to the Senate Constitution Committee and we’ve started a new term, so the hope is good. I think we certainly are a conservative state and Legislature, and there’s nothing more conservative than going to the Constitution,” Senator Wiggins said. “It’s been an issue between the two branches and this heads off something that is likely to continue.”

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank:
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