Lawmakers see tough decisions on state spending

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 5, 2004

Lincoln County lawmakers are looking forward to the 2004legislative session that starts Tuesday, but they acknowledge statebudget concerns will mean some tough decisions.

“It’s going to be a long four months,” said Dist. 92 Rep. Dr.Jim Barnett.

Barnett and Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said addressing thestate’s financial bind will be the goal for lawmakers.

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“It’s going to take a lot of hard work to control stategovernment and to cut waste of money,” Barnett said.

Barnett said lawmakers will look to hold down waste in everyagency and in every department. However, he was unable to offer anyspecifics.

“It’s so great,” Barnett said.

Hyde-Smith cited unnecessary state employee cell phone use asone example of budget costs that could be trimmed. She said allareas of state government could expect cuts, but Medicaid couldescape across the board reductions.

“I’m really eager to get there and get the buzz and find outwhat’s going to be happening,” Hyde-Smith said.

Barnett expressed concerns about cutting down on fraud inMedicaid.

“It’s eating our lunch,” Barnett said.

Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, however, was more optimistic about theMedicaid situation.

“Medicaid is not in a lurch,” said Moak, adding that lawmakersneed to look at how services are delivered to see it is being doneefficiently and economically.

Moak was also skeptical that other state programs would beslashed.

“We’ll live within the money generated through current taxes,”Moak said.

Moak said programs would be looked at much closer. He said someprograms, such as an effort to better market agriculture products,could even be expanded.

“That certainly helps us in southwest Mississippi,” Moaksaid.

Moak, Barnett and Hyde-Smith were unanimous in downplayingchances of a tax increase this year to address budget shortfalls.They said the leadership of their respective chambers was againstit.

“I don’t foresee a tax increase,” Hyde-Smith said.

As far as areas of spending, Barnett and Hyde-Smith said theywanted to make sure the Mississippi School of the Arts remained ontrack.

Barnett said operating money for the next school year has beenfactored into budget projections, and Hyde-Smith said things shouldbe fine. Barnett, though, pointed out the need for revenue fromother sources besides the state.

“I don’t see any new infrastructure or capital improvements forthe school right now,” Barnett said. “It’s going to have to comefrom private funding.”

In discussing the budget, Hyde-Smith said lawmakers last yearused a ‘Band Aid’ to cover spending.

“This year, we’re going to have to have a tourniquet,”Hyde-Smith said.

The senator advocated a change in how budget projections andestimates are determined. Instead of budgeting based on projectedgrowth, which may not happened, she said lawmakers should calculatebudget expecting zero percentage growth.

“It should be based on previous year’s income,” Hyde-Smithsaid.

Hyde-Smith said the recovering economy would be major help inpulling the state out of its money problems. She mentionedhealthier tax collections.

“Hopefully, the increases will pull us out of the mess we’rein,” Hyde-Smith said. “But if it’s business as usual, we’ll findourselves right back in it.”