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Session’s end leaves reps disappointed

Lincoln County lawmakers expressed disappointment withWednesday’s end of the 2005 legislative session that leaves thestate without a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts inJuly.

“It ended poorly to say the least,” District 53 Rep. Bobby Moaksaid this morning after the session concluded at midnight.

Moak said the House’s and Senate’s positions were welldocumented and lawmakers knew what the positions were.

“Ours was we had to fund K-12,” Moak said.

Moak said the Senate wanted money for other state agencies andsought cuts. However, when presented with the House’s proposals toraise some fees and a cigarette tax and cut some services, theSenate refused to consider those, he said.

“It’s hard to negotiate with a group like that,” Moak said.

District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett was a little more understandingof the Senate’s position.

“I think both sides had some pluses in their plans,” Barnettsaid.

While both chambers sought service cuts, Barnett said the Senatewas more interested in funding state community colleges andinstitutions of higher learning.

“It couldn’t be done with the money we put into MAEP,” Barnettsaid.

Barnett remained committed to a House proposal to hike thestate’s cigarette tax.

“I’m still disappointed the governor has not gotten off ‘no taxincreases,'” Barnett said. “I think a cigarette and alcohol taxwould have been so important.”

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, and District 91Rep. Joey Hudson, D-Monticello, were unavailable for comment thismorning.

With the regular session ending without a budget, Gov. HaleyBarbour will need to call lawmakers back for a special session.Barnett and Moak were expecting a special session to be called inabout a month.

In the meanwhile, though, school districts across the state willbe facing tough decisions on teacher hirings for next year.Contracts to teachers must be acted on by April 15.

Barnett was unsure how the situation would be handled.

“It’ll be up to the 152 school districts what to do,” Barnettsaid.

Moak said superintendents and schools are liable for theiractions.

“They’re really plagued with a couple of issues,” Moak said.

Moak said school boards could “pink slip” everybody. Or, Moaksaid the districts could try to stretch local funds to cover whatthey can and lay off everyone else.

“They’re really going to be put with some real dilemmas,” Moaksaid.

Of local interest, Barnett was optimistic that funding would besufficient for the Mississippi School of the Arts. He said it hadbeen budgeted for around $2 million for next year.

“That’s not one of the issues we’ll be taking up in specialsession,” Barnett said. “We’ll be OK.”

If no budget is approved by July 1, the start of the state’s newfiscal year, Moak said everything could shut down then.

“We’ll just see how it falls,” Moak said.