Lawmakers face tough budget decisions

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Tough decisions await Mississippi lawmakers in Jackson this week when they reconvene in Jackson. Many of them say the problems facing Mississippi this year are dire.

"This is getting to the point where it's drastic times, taking drastic measures," said Senator Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula).

This year, a multi-million dollar decrease in state revenue rests on legislators' shoulders as they struggle to construct a budget.  So far, no consensus has been made on a final draft. The new fiscal year is just over a month away.

"We've gotta have a decision," Watson said.  "And we've gotta move forward, and time is running out."

With 2,000 state jobs possibly hanging in the balance, they say their work wont be an easy task. Representative Brandon Jones (D-Pascagoula) wants to tap into the state's savings account to save government jobs this year.

"We have been very fortunate in this state to build up a very substantial rainy day fund," he said. "I think that we can keep many of our highway patrolmen on the streets, keep our teachers in the classroom, and keep nurses attending to the sick.  I'd like for us to focus on letting the workers we have provide the services they do, and not send them home prematurely."

Watson said he's not happy about the possibility of layoffs, but he doesn't' think it's time to tap into the savings account just yet.  He said that fund needs to remain strong for darker times ahead.

"The year after the recession ends is going to be the worst. That is scary," Watson said.  "If we can trim government now and when the recession gets over with, we start picking up, and keep government as small as it is now, start getting tax credits back. That makes jobs. And that's when those people can have higher paying, better jobs. So maybe that's the way around this."

They may disagree on how to do it, but both men said they are ready to put politics aside and get some real solutions for Mississippi's financial trouble.

"This is a serious year," Jones said.  "We're facing serious budget problems- historic budget problems. The decisions that we make in Jackson could affect virtually every industry and field in our state."

Jones and Watson also both said they believe Mississippi will pull through the economic crisis.

The 2010 fiscal year begins July 1st.

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