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Lawmakers: No quick answers to budget mess

Lincoln County lawmakers say legislators are facing some “harddecisions” on how to address state budget shortfall, but they saythere’s been little agreement so far on how to tackle theproblems.

“We have a lot of work to do yet,” Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnettsaid Sunday.

Barnett’s comments came after a contentious week as lawmakersstart to feel the pressure of a variety of unresolved issues.

“We saw some heated arguments last week, and I’m afraid it’sgoing to get worse,” said Barnett, R-Brookhaven.

Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said he believeslawmakers know what needs to be done but are not ready to moveforward.

“I think everybody know they’re going to have to make some harddecisions, but they’re not at the point where they’re ready to makethose,” Moak said.

Moak said lawmakers will have to consider fee increases, servicecuts or other measures to address the state’s budget crisis.

“We’ve just got to get on with that …,” Moak said. “At somepoint, we’ve got to make some votes everybody’s not pleasedwith.”

Moak said he believes the House is further along than the Senatein trying to tackle budget woes.

Moak and Barnett mentioned House action to increase fees onseveral items, such as driver’s license renewals. The measure isexpected to generate around $49 million.

The representatives also discussed a bill that would haveenacted a deposit structure on cans and bottles and produced anestimated $20 million for the state. Both Moak and Barnettsupported the measure that fell one vote short of passage lastweek.

Moak said the Senate has responded by wanting to raid thetobacco trust fund and remove civil service protection for stateemployees.

“I’m not for doing that,” Moak said.

Moak said the governor’s office has trumpeted savings in theMississippi Department of Corrections by removing the protectionsin that agency. However, the lawmaker said the governor’s officeasking for $26 million more this year despite the savings.

“The Senate is walking hand-in-hand with the governor down thatrosy field,” Moak said. “The House just is not willing to dothat.”

Barnett differed from his House colleague on the issue.

“I’m with the Senate,” Barnett said. “We’re going to have to cutservices.”

Education funding remains a concern for Moak.

Moak indicated the state must do its part to fund the adequateeducation program. Otherwise, the financial burden could be passedon to local districts and the state could face legal action overthe funding failure.

“If we do not fund education at the state level … what thatmeans is local folks will have to make up that difference withlocal taxes,” said Moak, citing potential increases on car tag,land and other taxes.

A solution for a failed beef processing plant in YalobushaCounty remains elusive as interest grows on a $35 millionstate-guaranteed loan. Barnett called the situation a “fiasco” thatthe state should wash its hands of.

“I want us to get completely out of it,” Barnett said. “We don’tneed it as a state property.”