Deadline looms for state budget

By Elise Roberts - bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Time is winding down for Mississippi lawmakers to agree on a nearly $5 billion state budget.

Lawmakers ended their regular session a week ago without coming to a compromise on a new budget. June 30 is the last day Mississippi's elected lawmakers will have to come up with how the state will spend its money in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Since House and Senate leaders couldn't come to a compromise, it's now left up to Governor Haley Barbour to call a special session and lawmakers have to wait to find out how the governor will handle Mississippi's budget crisis.

"The budget needs to happen yesterday. It is crucial that we get this thing done," said House member Brandon Jones.

Jones said it's time to push aside personal politics and finish the job lawmakers were called to do.

"The state of Mississippi elects us to have a budget and that's what they should have," said Jones.

Since January, lawmakers have squabbled over the budget for the 2010 fiscal year. They can't agree on key issues like how to fund Medicaid, or if they should use $60 million in stimulus funds in the upcoming fiscal year or spread it out over two years. It's a debate Jones said is wasting time and taxpayer dollars.

"We've been told by everyone who has addressed this question across the country that we can't put this money forward," said Jones. "This money was intended to provide immediate relief to programs that are in dire straits."

John Read represents District 112. He is one of the House members holding out hope that stimulus monies can be spread over two fiscal years. But like his counterpart, he agrees that it's time for lawmakers to get it together and construct a budget that will move Mississippi forward.

"I am one of the 174, so I am just as much a part of the problem as others. We all disagree. But it's not us and them," said Read. "We are all a part of the legislature and we just have to get in there and work it out."

House members say when it comes to things like education and funding for Mississippi's Highway Patrol, they are on the same page.

"I can tell you that the leadership in the House of Representatives is committed to making sure that we don't have to expand classroom sizes to an unreasonable number, to making sure that we protect the jobs of our Mississippi Highway Patrol men and women and to make sure that we do not have an unfair and unreasonable tax on our hospitals," said Jones.

While the House agrees on these measures, they only hope the Senate and the governor will see things their way.

But since lawmakers couldn't agree before the deadline, Gov. Haley Barbour will take control. Within the next two weeks, Barbour will call a special session where he will have the power to set the agenda.

"I think the budget will be pretty good when it gets out," said Read.

The special session will cost taxpayers an additional $13,000 a day. There's no word on when the governor will hold the special session.

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