One state legislator predicts the 2003 regular session will be a bumpy ride. Starting Tuesday lawmakers will have to figure out how to divvy up money to agencies that want $1 billion more than the state can afford.
Representative Michael Janus is one of those preparing for a trip to Jackson. Janus says he's also prepared for a legislative fight. He has packed up and headed off to the regular legislative session for seven years, but this year he says there is not enough room in the budget for lawmakers to fit in all the requests for money.
"It's hard to say one issue is more important than the other," said Janus. "It's really just a balancing act of how we can take care of all those many needs of the state."
The needs, Janus says, include pay raises for teachers and college professors, and making sure that money earmarked for Coast roads doesn't end up headed in another direction. Janus says he's not thrilled about a plan to ask casinos to make up the state's budget shortfalls.
"The gaming industry here on the Gulf Coast employs some 12,0000 people. They're good jobs. They [casinos] run a real tight margin and if we start changing the taxes on the gaming establishments we could very well see several of them close."
Janus says he expects a tough financial fight in Jackson partly because some lawmakers are still licking wounds from the last special session.
"Both sides fought hard for their issues and I think some of that is gonna spill over into the general session," said Janus "We're gonna see some of the animosity and some the trench war fare that we saw during the special session."
Another obstacle is that 2003 is an election year. Janus says some representatives will be more concerned about their political futures than compromising.
"Obviously no one is gonna want to raise taxes but everyone is wanna bring home I guess we can say 'the bacon' to their districts," said Janus "They're gonna want to bring home their particular projects that obviously cost millions of dollars. So when there is no money or very limited funds obviously the fight is gonna be greater for those funds."
Representative Michael Janus plans to sponsor two bills this year. One would require convicted sex offenders to pay the state 50 dollars a year once they're released. Janus says that money would fund a computer program that would notify residents when sex offenders move into their neighborhood. His other bill would put stricter regulations on bail bondsmen.