Lawmaker offers ‘grim’ forecast for legislative session

Published 6:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2008

Like many other economic prognosticators, a Lincoln Countylawmaker Wednesday offered a gloomy forecast for the statelegislative session that starts next month.

“Obviously, with the economy in the shape it’s in now, the 2009session is going to be very grim,” said District 39 Sen. CindyHyde-Smith while speaking to the Brookhaven Kiwanis Club.

The senator took some of the cues from a state economic forumshe attended earlier in the week. Forum predictions includedthoughts that the worse is still ahead and that the state wouldstill be in “dire straits” this time next year.

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In confronting the economic downturn, Hyde-Smith said 2 percentcuts have been ordered. She said most state agency officials hadindicated they could live with those reductions, but the senatorexpressed concerns about the cuts’ impacts on the Department ofHuman Services.

“We need so many more social workers than we have now,” saidHyde-Smith, while also mentioning several news-making tragediesinvolving DHS-related cases.

Although there is much talk of “gloom and doom at the Capitol,”Hyde-Smith said lawmakers are going in with an optimistic view. Shebased that on the possibility of being able to make neededreductions in a number of areas.

“There are a lot of cuts that have needed to be made in so manystate agencies,” the senator said.

Hyde-Smith also mentioned predictions of 8 percent stateunemployment next year and Toyota’s decision to suspend work at itsplanned plant near Blue Springs in north Mississippi.

With Medicaid issues continuing to be a hot topic, Hyde-Smithelaborated on her efforts to reduce agency overpayments and thepossibility of recouping money for the state. With the help of aprivate company to uncover cases of dual coverage – such as when adivorced wife has a child covered by Medicaid but the father hasbeen required to provide health insurance coverage – the senatorindicated up to $100 million in overpayments could be eliminatedthrough effective work in those and other “pay and chase”situations.

“I thought that was one positive thing for the week,” Hyde-Smithsaid.

Also on the topic of Medicaid, Hyde-Smith was hopeful theanimosity between the hospital association, the governor’s officeand Medicaid could be reduced and a fairer funding formula could befound.

Among other legislative topics, Hyde-Smith promised a strongstance to address eminent domain laws to prevent the taking ofindividuals’ property for private developments. She predicted a taxincrease on cigarettes would pass and there could be somediscussion of school consolidation.

Regarding another hot button issue, Hyde-Smith said a voter IDlaw has a better chance of passing this year than ever before. Shepointed out voter roll totals showing 23 counties with moreregistered voters than they have in their total populations.

“It’s a no-brainer in my opinion,” Hyde-Smith said.

And the senator held a skeptical view on the possibility ofstate approval regarding traffic cameras. The cameras, which havebeen installed at some intersections in some Mississippimunicipalities, have generated controversy between supporters whosay they are a safety measure and opponents who contend they arelittle more than a way for cities to generate revenue.

“I feel like those will go away,” Hyde-Smith said.