Coast Lawmakers React To $100 Million Settlement

Within days, the state will have an extra $100 million in the bank. The money is from back taxes WorldCom owed the state.

Monday, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the settlement with MCI. the company that took over WorldCom. The money could help ease some of the state's budget woes.

"We desperately need the money. It's just a question of how we use it, and what problems we resolve with it," South Mississippi representative Jim Simpson said.

For Representative Simpson and other lawmakers, an extra $100 million to spend is a good problem to have. Agreeing how to spend the money, however, may be difficult.

Many believe the money should first be used to fund education.

"The House and Senate have been within $38 million on agreeing on K through 12 education. Once we get that taken care of, we can take care of the rest of the budget.," said Rep. Roger Ishee.

Rep. Frances Fredericks of Gulfport agrees.

"I think that we should first fund MAEP. I think that's the one way to get the most bang with most of that money, to spend it on the children within this state."

But education is a recurring expense. Some lawmakers would rather the MCI windfall go to one time expenses or make up for past problems.

"One that immediately comes to mind was the beef processing plant, that fiasco. The state owes $50 million on that plant that we have to pay this year, and we don't have any source for that," Rep. Jim Simpson said.

"I think we're in the straits we're in right now because we've been taking so many one-time monies to pay this recurring debt. The fact is that we have it, and it ought to help us in the special session just to get out of town, get our job done, and get going and not encumber too much other money," Sen. Billy Hewes III said.

Governor Haley Barbour is expected to call a special session later this month so lawmakers can finally pass the state's $3.8 billion budget. Lawmakers hope a little extra cash might make that easier.