LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) – "It is a grim reality. And the face of government, the shape of government I believe, is going to have to change if we're going to survive," said Sen. Billy Hewes.
Senator Hewes called the governor's proposal to slash $715 million from the state budget is both ambitious and disturbing. Yet, he said every state agency has to be considered during this budget crisis.
"There are no easy answers," Hewes said. "There are going to be a lot of people upset, because it's going to affect everybody personally."
On Wednesday, Hewes and six other Mississippi lawmakers discussed the budget woes during Leadership Gulf Coast Government Day at USM in Long Beach. They face the challenge of an expected $700 million shortfall next year and possibly $1.2 billion the following year, when federal stimulus money comes to a halt.
"Why are we making these tough decisions just because there's a crisis? If we're going to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, we need to be making good solid decisions year in and year out," said Rep. Steven Palazzo.
"Everything has to be on the table and that's unfortunate," Hewes said. "And I don't think any of us, the public and the legislature, realize just how far we're going to have to go to do some consolidation of agencies, services. It's not business as usual."
"The governor's recommending closing the mental health facilities. Where are they going to go? What's going to happen?" asked Rep. Diane Peranich.
She also raised questions about the governor's suggestion to merge eight universities into five.
"The governor is talking about condensing the administration portion, but not closing campuses," said Peranich. "I don't know how that would translate into saving dollars if in fact, every thing's ongoing without closing any campuses."
"Nobody wants to consider closing any institution or even consolidation, but it's a new day," said Hewes.
"Everything needs to be on the chopping block sort of speak, but we need to analyze whether doing something drastic as an IHL merger actually achieves cost benefits," said Sen. David Baria.
The budget debate still has a long way to go.
"I'm sure what the end result is going to be will be different than what the governor proposed," said Hewes.
The Legislative Budget Committee will come up with its own budget recommendations by the end of the year.