Governor Changes Date for Special Session


Gov. Ronnie Musgrove could set a risky precedent by raising money to pay for a special legislative session, Attorney General Mike Moore says. ``It's bad public policy to pay public officials with private donations,'' Moore said Tuesday.

Moore's office hasn't researched the legality of private donations. Legislators in the past have said special sessions cost at least $30,000 a day.

Research released Tuesday by the Senate staff shows travel costs could drive up the expense of a one-day session to almost $47,500. Musgrove is calling lawmakers to Jackson July 23 so they can consider killing a section of law that says teachers will get automatic raises only if the state budget grows at least 5 percent a year.

The governor originally set the session for July 18. On Tuesday, he changed the date to accommodate lawmakers' schedules because many will be at a conference in Georgia next week.

``It is important for the members of the Legislature to be present to vote on the removal of the 5 percent provision,'' Musgrove, who's on vacation, said in a news release. ``This will be a historic vote for the children and teachers of Mississippi.'' Legislative leaders say a one-issue session is a waste of money.

Musgrove on Monday gave two options he says will save taxpayers' dollars. He said legislators could serve without pay or he could raise the money to pay for the session. Greg Bullock, an American history teacher and boys' basketball coach at Petal High, said teachers need reassurance the state will raise salaries to the projected Southeastern average. Mississippi has long ranked near the bottom of national pay scales.

Bullock has worked in public schools 20 years and said he works nights as a bank janitor to support his family. He said many teachers work second jobs. ``If we don't further public education, if we don't strengthen it, we're going to end up being a two-class society those who can afford vouchers and private schools and those who can't,'' Bullock said.

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford on Monday asked Musgrove to combine the teacher pay issue with a special session on congressional redistricting later this year. Only a governor can call special sessions, and only he can set the agendas.

``I still believe we will be better stewards of the taxpayers' dollars if we include the teacher pay issue in an upcoming session on congressional redistricting,'' Tuck said Tuesday. Ford agreed and said: ``Whether to remove the 5 percent trigger is no longer up for debate. It is going to happen.''

The redistricting session hasn't been set. Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, the vice chairman of a redistricting committee, said Tuesday it's ``extremely unlikely'' that lawmakers will be ready to handle redistricting July 23.

A $330 million teacher pay package passed during the 2000 session is intended to raise Mississippi teacher salaries to the projected Southeastern average of about $41,000 by the 2005-2006 school year. Tuck wrote the 5 percent provision at a time the teacher pay plan was in danger of dying. She defended it for more than a year as a budget safeguard.

On Friday, she said the state needs to remove it. Mississippi's budget grew about 2.1 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and is expected to grow less than 5 percent in the current budget year.