Call Off Your Dog, Barbour

Last Thursday, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant refused to let the Senate even consider a bill raising the state's pathetic 17-cent excise tax on a pack of cigarettes to counter the $90 million Medicaid budget shortfall.

Bryant, like former tobacco lobbyist Gov. Haley Barbour, prefers a tax on hospital patients rather than a tax on cigarettes. He called the Democrat-led bill unconstitutional, saying Barbour did not bring the tobacco tax in as an agenda item.

Barbour made a rare move in calling the Legislature together for a special session to act upon a specific bill rather than to deal with a general issue in the first place—he even attached to the summons a draft of the hospital patient tax bill that he wanted the Legislature to rubber-stamp. This gave Bryant the weapon to treat any alternative proposal, no matter how popular or sane, as outside the scope of the call and not to be considered.

Bryant is obviously "willing to work with" Barbour, as he repeated time and time again in the months leading up to last November's election. He's the perfect Barbour puppet that he'd always ascribed himself to be—but he's making enemies out of some members of his own Senate during his first year at lieutenant governor.

In refusing to allow the bill even to go to a committee for consideration, he's carried the power of the executive branch into the territory of the legislative—a move that will diminish Bryant in the eyes of some senators.

Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said on his blog that if Bryant "is correct in his ruling, the governor can dictate to the Legislature the precise bill he wants passed during a special session, and the Legislature will have no authority to act in any other manner. If correct, this ruling would mean that the Legislature would be superfluous in such circumstances."

In other words, why do you need to spend millions of dollars electing senators when the only election that really matters is the governor's?

The ruling team of Barbour-Bryant is standing in the way of the most popular legislative push this decade has seen, with a Republican poll showing 80 percent of Mississippians prefer the tobacco tax over a tax on their hospital stay. Hospital representatives told House members last week that the hospital tax would mean cuts to staffing in hospitals serving the state's poorer areas like the Delta, yet Barbour will not consider any possibility that dares to threaten his precious tobacco companies.

There's a line between being a governor and being a "former" lobbyist in the governor's seat. Call off your dog, governor. Dispense with your all-out invasion of the Senate already and let the people get the solution to the Medicaid problem that they want.


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