Governor lists top issues for '09 session

By Jon Kalahar - email

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi's legislative session opens Tuesday, and it's only the beginning of what could be a fiercely debated 90 days.

Facing a poor economy and lower than expected tax revenue, Governor Haley Barbour laid out his priorities Monday for the legislative regular session. Job growth and protecting current positions statewide is number one. But with nearly 20,000 jobs lost since last spring, the trickle down effect will hurt in other areas as well.

"We should anticipate there's going to be more beneficiaries between now and the end of the fiscal year, and it's going to be very hard for Medicaid to stay within the amount appropriated," said Barbour.

The Governor is once again pushing a hospital assessment tax to fill the $90 million the state needs to draw down federal funds. It's a tax state hospitals paid from 1992 to 2004.

"Because of the way the Medicaid system works, for every dollar they pay in, they get back six. I'll do that with the IRS till the cows come home," said Barbour.

That draws a clear line in the sand between the Governor and many democrats in the legislature. They'd like to see Medicaid funded with a $1 cigarette tax. Barbour favors that revenue going to the general fund to be used as lawmakers see fit.

"That's why we got a legislature. Look, put it in the general fund and let's spend it according to the process based on priorities as we see them, and do it on an annual basis," said Barbour.

Voter identification, workforce development, and job training are on Governor Barbour's list of priorities. So is a health insurance exchange program he's developed to give small businesses a chance to provide employees with health benefits.