Gov. Haley Barbour cannot legally make a line-item veto on million of dollars in spending on at-risk youth programs, Attorney General Jim Hood said today. "Barbour's misguided and illegal attempt to partially veto (appropriations bills) HB 1681 and HB 1589 are clearly unconstitutional, based upon well-settled Supreme Court decisions," Hood told reporters. "That cuts off numerous programs, from the YMCA, to the Boys and Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters to Badges for Baseball. Anybody familiar with these programs will say that it's cheaper to spend money on children at a young age than spend $30,000 a year to warehouse them as criminals after they become adults."
Barbour eliminated sections in two bills over the weekend for reasons of diverting Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) money into job training and transportation subsidies. New federal conditions require welfare recipients to meet new federal work participation requirements, and Barbour said he wants to put more money into work training to accomplish that goal.
The governor wrote in a veto statement that he is trying to keep the state's TANF money viable. "This is not about the Boys and Girls Club," Barbour wrote. "This is about welfare money being used for its intended purpose, which is to help our most vulnerable citizens."
The veto means a $5.5 million cut in funds to the Attorney General's office for youth programs, however. House Speaker Billy McCoy requested an opinion from Hood's office on the legality of the partial veto, and Hood responded that both bills 1689 and 1681 will "become law in their entirety, as originally passed by the Legislature" because the governor's veto was "null and void."
Hood referenced Supreme Court case Fordice v. Bryan, in which then Gov. Kirk Fordice unsuccessfully attempted partial vetoes of 27 appropriation bills. Hood argued that waivers are available to the state that would allow it to continue to get funding despite any unmet federal requirements. Hood said he had indicated as much to Barbour, though a letter from Barbour's office claims, "no such waiver is available."
"We got a letter from the federal agency saying 'yes, you can,' but (Barbour and MDHS Executive Director Donald Taylor) didn't even try to get a waiver," Hood said.
Hood produced a Feb. 21 MDHS letter predicting no need for financial alterations, such as Barbour's $5 million MDHS diversion, saying that state money would survive the new federal work participation requirements. The letter, addressed to legislators, said that the state could "reasonably anticipate continuing to meet (the new federal) mandates."
"February 21 they say we can meet it, and now they say the world's coming to an end. We gave them a form and showed them how to file (for the waiver), and they refused to do it," Hood said.
Barbour's press secretary, Pete Smith, said the governor was standing firmly behind the legality of his veto.
"Barbour would not have used the veto if he thought it was null and void, as Hood suggests," Smith said. Smith would not comment on whether the governor was willing to pursue the issue through state courts. Hood said he will follow Barbour to court if necessary to preserve the programs, and referenced the governor's 2004 unsuccessful effort to reclassify 65,000 Medicaid recipients as ineligible "poverty-level aged and disabled."
"If he indicates he's going to try to withhold money for these services then we'll cross that bridge when we get there," Hood said. "It's like in the Medicaid case. You got a guy who wants to run the state with an iron fist. It takes the court of law, like (U.S. District) Judge Wingate, who hit him on the head with a 2x4 and showed him what the law was in the Medicaid battle."