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Lawmakers anticipate no quick session

Lincoln County lawmakers and their colleagues from across thestate are gearing up for a special session that will give them theopportunity to complete the unfinished business of settling on astate budget.

During the regular session that ended in April, lawmakers failedto approve a budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.Differences, particularly over education funding levels, among theHouse, Senate and Gov. Haley Barbour resulted in the budgetinaction.

There were indications Tuesday that Barbour would call lawmakersback next Wednesday, although the governor did not confirm thatdate. Lincoln County lawmakers said next Wednesday is in line withspeculation they had heard recently around the Capitol.

“I’ll be glad to go and get it over with,” said District 92 Rep.Dr. Jim Barnett.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak predicted the special session wouldlast at least a week, given the budget issues involved. District 92Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said she hopes the special session will lastonly a few days, but judging from previous ones, she expected it tolast much longer.

“Our time is running out,” Hyde-Smith said.

Following Monday’s announcement of a $100 million lawsuitsettlement with MCI (the former Clinton-based WorldCom), lawmakerswill have more money to use when a special session is called.Hyde-Smith said that money is expected to be in the state’streasury in about two weeks.

“This one-time money will have a great effect on the budgetprocess during the special session,” said Hyde-Smith,D-Brookhaven.

But the senator sounded a note of caution about using themoney.

“The one thing we’ve got to remember is it’s one-time money,”Hyde-Smith said. “We’ve got to spend it like it’s one-time money,knowing it’s not reoccurring.”

Moak also said the additional funds would be beneficial.

“It will certainly get us out of some holes,” Moak said. “Wehave to realize it’s one-time money, so you’ve got to be carefulabout that.”

Moak indicated, though, that one-time money could be used topatch budget holes that may come up again next year. The veteranlawmaker said he was “amazed” at the number of times one-time moneymaterializes for Mississippi and other states from year toyear.

“This doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen morefrequently than you might think,” Moak said.

Hyde-Smith said there are “plenty of places” to use the funds,with education being the top priority. However, she did not offerany specifics on funding plans.

“We just need to plug the holes,” Hyde-Smith said. “We’ll haveto let the budget process determine what the priorities are.”

Moak expressed similar comments about how the money will bespent.

“That’ll be the biggest fight,” Moak said. “I would hope wewould use it to shore up the education and health carebudgets.”