Oakland nonprofit could help Jackson sue over governor’s line-item vetoes

Another legal battle could be brewing between the city of Jackson and the state, this time over...
Another legal battle could be brewing between the city of Jackson and the state, this time over the governor's vetoes of several earmarks for Jackson.(Associated Press)
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 3:06 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson could be gearing up for yet another lawsuit against the state, this time in relation to the governor’s decision to veto millions of dollars in legislative earmarks for city projects.

On Tuesday, the city council approved entering into an agreement with the Oakland-based Public Rights Project to represent the city in challenging the legality of actions taken during the 2023 legislative session.

Council Vice-President Angelique Lee said the group will likely look at some of the “underfunding” issues impacting Jackson, including the governor’s decision to issue several line-item vetoes for city projects.

“This is actually really not about House Bill 1020,” she said. “It’s just about, I think, the legislative asks from the city as a whole.”

The work is being done free of charge. The agreement will be in place from May 23 until any lawsuits related to the 2023 legislative session are resolved, according to an agreement included in the council’s agenda packet.

[READ: Judge extends restraining order blocking provisions of 1020]

The motion was approved on a 5-1 vote. Council members Brian Grizzell, Vernon Hartley, Aaron Banks, Virgi Lindsay and Lee voted in favor.

Hartley asked how the group would collaborate with others on the H.B. 1020 lawsuits.

Two challenges have been filed to the controversial law enforcement bill, one that was dismissed in Hinds County Chancery Court and is now on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and a second one that is now pending in U.S. District Court.

“All of our litigation is done collaboratively - hearing from community residents, community-based organizations and other legal advocacy organizations,” said Jonathan Miller, chief program officer with the Public Rights Project. “So, we’d be looking for that partnership to enhance and complement those efforts.”

Councilman Vernon Hartley speaks at a previous council meeting.
Councilman Vernon Hartley speaks at a previous council meeting. (WLBT)

Council President Ashby Foote voted against the proposal, saying the city has attorneys in-house that could do the work, adding that the city should focus more on public safety and making infrastructure improvements.

“We’ve got plenty of things on our plate to focus on,” he said. “Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.”

The vote comes about a month after Gov. Tate Reeves again vetoed several legislative earmarks for the capital city. Those allocations included $1 million for improving parking at the Jackson Convention Complex, $2 million to renovate the Russell C. Davis Planetarium and $13.25 million for LeFleur’s Bluff Golf Course.

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

[READ: Jackson Convention Complex, private management firm part ways]

It was the second year in a row the governor vetoed the earmarks, and came just hours after he signed H.B. 1020, a controversial bill impacting the capital city that is now being challenged in federal and state court.

At an April 24 news conference, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the city was exploring its legal options following the governor’s decision, and refuted Reeves’ claims the vetoes were about protecting taxpayer dollars.

“This is not part of a general effort to cut costs and make sure that the state of Mississippi has a balanced budget sheet,” he said. “These are targeted attacks against the city of Jackson.”

Reeves used line-item vetoes to nix 15 appropriations in House Bill 603 and 1089. Combined funding for the projects was more than $23 million.

The governor vetoed the same earmarks for Jackson in 2022, saying they were “not within the proper role of state government” and “not in the taxpayers’ best interest.”

Officials in Reeves’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Public Rights Project is a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California.

According to its website, it filed an amicus brief on behalf of workers’ rights groups seeking more state oversight over rideshare companies like Uber.

The nonprofit also filed documents in U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and in the Arizona Supreme Court in cases in support of protecting abortion rights.

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