Legislators Remain Stuck on Budget


Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, warns that cuts mandated by Gov. Barbour's budget means stiff cuts to education and possible property tax increases.

With 14 days remaining in Mississippi's 2009 fiscal year, lawmakers continue their struggle to reach a consensus on next year's budget. The special negotiating team, which consists of three House and three Senate members, along with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, ended yesterday's session with $12 million in total differences on the $5 billion budget, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

At the top of the list of unresolved issues is how much to spend on Medicaid, which provides health care to the state's disabled, elderly and poor residents, and where to procure the funds. Gov. Haley Barbour, who is currently in France, wants the lawmakers to enact a $90 million hospital tax to cover Medicaid, but House members are attempting to hold the new tax at $57 million.

Medicaid Chairman Dirk Dedeaux, D-Perkinston, told the Associated Press Monday that the issue isn't the figure. He said the Senate plan would allow additional cuts to Medicaid.

"The Senate leaves the door open to balance the entire budget on cuts to hospitals. Everybody has a hospital in their community," Dedeaux said.

The Commercial Appeal is also reporting that the State Tax Commission is requesting a new $30 million tax management system that "would capture $30 million to $35 million a year from people who fail to pay their proper state taxes." The system, along with Medicaid, how much (if anything) to reserve from the federal stimulus package, education funding, corrections and rehabilitation round out the top issues on the table.

"The total dollar amount, as far as the differences in the two budgets, is $12 million, but the big difference is how we spend our respective moneys," said Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, and one of the Senate negotiators, to the Appeal.

"So, while the bottom lines are getting closer, and that's good, there are still some significant differences in the individual budgets," Davis said.

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, told the AP that the team is closer to reaching a budget compromise.

"We didn't agree on specific things in there. We were able to explain our positions. Just from the tone of it, we're closer," Brown told the AP after yesterday's session, but also criticized Barbour for leaving the state during the negotiations.

"It's hard to talk to the governor if he's in France," Brown said.

Negotiators return to the table today. Barbour has said that he will call the full state Legislation back for a special session only when there is a budget to pass. Reportedly, Barbour rejected several previous budgets that the negotiating team agreed upon.


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