Business leaders told tough times are still ahead

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) – The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce held its annual legislative breakfast Tuesday morning at the Chamber office in Pascagoula. Several state lawmakers addressed the group about the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

It wasn't long before the business leaders were hit with the bad news. There's just not enough money to go around, according to state senator Michael Watson.

"Number one, of course, is going to be the budget," Watson said. "Last year, I thought, was the worst year we had ever seen. Unfortunately, this year will trump that."

The slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina was debated.  Most agree the high cost of insurance is preventing many from rebuilding, but not for a lack of effort said state representative Brandon Jones.

"There's not a single of this delegation that hasn't rolled up their sleeves and done their part, whether it comes to the windpool or if it comes to creating a business climate where other insurance companies are attracted to this area."

But there was good news on the insurance front.  State representative Billy Broomfield said the state windpool may receive an infusion of cash.

"We're going to fund that. I've been assured of that," Broomfield said.  "Between the commissioner and the chairman of appropriations, we have the $20 million to make that happen."

Education funding, which makes up more than 50% of the state's budget, was also a major concern.  Some, like Ocean Springs Schools Superintendent Robert Hirsch, are suggesting innovative ways to fund job skills programs.

"Everybody is not college material," Hirsch said.  "They were never intended to be.  College is a cutpoint for the highly educated versus the educated."

Most educators, like Moss Point superintendent Kim Staley,  just want to break even in 2011.

"If we can receive the funding that we have received in the past, then we'll be okay and that's all we can expect at this time," Staley said.  "As you know and heard earlier, they are facing a big deficit themselves since federal funds are going away."

What won't be going away is the challenge of making ends meet for everyone next year.

Lawmakers say there are some proposals on the table to bring in more revenue, including raising the tax on alcohol.  The legislature meets at the beginning of January for a three month long session.

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