Some lawmakers share governor's stimulus money concerns

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Some state lawmakers say Governor Haley Barbour isn't the only one worried about the long term effects of receiving the federal stimulus package.

The governor said at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C. on Saturday that Mississippi may not accept a $50 million portion of the money that would go toward expanding unemployment compensation.

A day later, some state legislators said while Mississippi needs money to fill this year's budget gaps, they're concerned about the long term consequences.

State Senator Michael Watson, a republican from Pascagoula, said he thinks people may be surprised when they find out what stipulations are written into the 1,100 page stimulus bill. He said he believes most legislators on the state and national levels have never read it entirely.

"It had enough votes to pass, and those folks don't even know what's in the thing," Watson said.

The stipulations within it for Mississippi are complicated, and these legislators believe they could be long-term.

State Representative Hank Zuber said, "We don't want to be in a position where three or four years from now, we have an increase in benefits from the government, and local programs, and the number of people who are receiving these benefits [then] the money stops. We don't have any way to keep these programs in place, and to pay the recipients. That would be very bad for you and for me and for the state of Mississippi."

But Zuber said he would welcome some of the projects in the stimulus package, particularly those dealing with transportation improvements.

"We have a tremendous need in this state to replace some of our bridges," he said.  "A lot of them are very old and they don't meet present federal standards, so that will help us tremendously."

Zuber also said he approves of some of the other projects, like the modernization of public buildings, the weatherization of homes, and rebates for purchasing certain environmentally-friendly appliances.

"That creates jobs, and that's concrete and mortar," said Zuber.  "That's something that we will have after the money stops."

Michael Watson said that although the initial benefits of the stimulus are undeniable, it's important to look at the offer critically.

"We've got to approach this thing with a lot of intelligence," said State Senator Michael Watson. "Make sure that we sit down and dot our I's and cross our T's and make sure we know how this is going to affect us down the road. And make sure that this is going to have enough of a positive effect on our people that we can take the hit down the road."

The stimulus isn't all or nothing.  Barbour has already accepted a small portion of it.  The segment he's agreed to accept will extend unemployment benefits by $25 per week.  It will also increase the unemployment extension for an additional 33 weeks.  This section is not the part of the bill Barbour has openly opposed dealing with unemployment insurance.

Both of these legislators respect Governor Barbour's decision to look at the money carefully before he accepts.

"I would say that he wants to make sure that the programs are in the best interest of Mississippi," said Zuber.  "And that three or four years from now we're not stuck with a bunch of programs that we can't fund, and we're looking at increasing my taxes and your taxes to keep those programs in place."

Both legislators are ready to put whatever money comes to Mississippi to the best use possible, for both the present and the future.

"Sometimes, when you just have to have the money, you just have to have the money," said Watson.  "At the end of the day, you look at how it's going to make a positive effect, and if it's enough, then we'll do what we have to do."