Legislators talk strategies for budget cuts

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi legislators say state revenues were $89 million short last month, and that means more budget cuts are coming. Three South Mississippi lawmakers delivered that news at a conference on growth in Biloxi on Wednesday.

Part of what drivers pay at the gas pump goes to MDOT to pay for road projects. MDOT is one of several state agencies that collects taxes, fees or membership dues that go into what's called special funds.

Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport says if Mississippi's finances get much worse, legislators may have to dip into that money.

"We're going to have to probably change the way we do business and function and maximize the efficiency of our agencies," said Sen. Hewes. "Hopefully nobody loses jobs, but the reality is that may occur too. It's happening in the private sector."

Rep. Hank Zuber and Sen. Deborah Dawkins think raiding special funds should be a last resort.

"There are a lot of boards and commissions that perform very valuable functions, for example our Board of Accountancy in Mississippi," said Sen. Dawkins. "They produce their own funds to run their own agency. How we would dare take that money and say we're going to use this for something else. We need to keep those regulatory functions in tact," said Dawkins.

"If we take it that first year, guess what? It makes it a little bit easier to take it that second year and to rely on special funds year after year, instead of making the necessary budget cuts and restraints that we need to make," said Rep. Zuber.

Some legislators have suggested the fairest move is to cut every area by a certain percentage. But others disagree.

Rep. Zuber said, "You don't want to be irresponsible and just stay we have a deficit and we just want to have a blanket five percent across the board cut. It's more prudent and responsible to look at the past history of these state agencies. See which ones have got a tremendous increase during the last two or three years as compared to the ones who did not and start from that point. "

Sen. Dawkins said, "That's the easy way out. Our job is not to take the easy way out."

Southern District Highway Commissioner Wayne Brown says MDOT operates almost entirely through special funds.

Brown said, "I certainly hope they don't try to attack these funds. They either need to cut the budget or raise taxes. We have too many needs on our roads to take money from MDOT."

Sen. Dawkins also said the state needs to careful about any education cuts.

"I just don't see the ten percent as being acceptable. In Mississippi, we cannot afford to cut our core services and our projects that we have just incrementally built. We cannot afford to take ten steps back and hope to take two steps forward later."

The legislative session is scheduled to resume on the 26th.

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