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GOP senator warns of tough decision ahead

WESSON – President Pro-Tempore of the Senate and leadingRepublican Billy Hewes warned Monday of budget cuts and thepossibility of more taxes to offset a budget that is $180 millionshort for fiscal year 2010 while also signaling that toughfinancial times could continue for Mississippi.

While speaking to delegates to the annual American Legion BoysState program at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, the HarrisonCounty senator said legislators will likely face tough decisionsTuesday when they rejoin the session to begin work on thebudget.

“We’re probably going to have to do both,” Hewes said of cuttingand taxing to balance the budget. “We have a group that doesn’twant to cut anything, a group that doesn’t want to tax anything andone group in the middle that wants to compromise. There’s notenough votes in any group to reach a compromise.”

Hewes said the session began in January with a $90 millionshortfall in Medicaid, but negative tax revenue collections for themonth of April alone produced another $89 million in the red.

“We should have already been cutting,” Hewes said after hisspeech. “We’ve got to change our spending habits.”

Hewes voiced his support for a hospital tax to pay for thestate’s ailing Medicaid program, which has been supported withone-time money every year since 2005. He said hospitals should payfor the $90 million hole in Medicaid because they enjoy thethree-to-one federal match – a deal that is more than fair.

“Heck yeah – if you’re gonna benefit from it, you need to havesome equity in it,” Hewes said.

Hewes reminded the Boys State students the hospital tax had beencollected in Mississippi for years before courts ruled against themethod of collecting the tax from only public hospitals, and thatbillions in Katrina recovery money used to shore up the state arenow gone.

In regard to his political future, Hewes also shared some of thedetails of his plan to run for lieutenant governor in the 2011state elections. He said he is prepared for the job of presidingover the Senate because of his experience in that body since1992.

“Part of it is having been a member of the leadership in theSenate,” he said. “I understand the body and I have a goodrelationship with the members. People have to have a leader theycan depend on, but a leader has to have a team he can count on aswell.”

If elected to the post of lieutenant governor, Hewes said hewould pursue faith-based initiatives and consult with churches inthe community when considering social programs and disasterresponses. He professed his believe in a limited role forgovernment, saying that government is not designed to provide forall needs.

“During Hurricane Katrina, the government couldn’t get it right,the Red Cross had a problem getting it right, but our church groupscame in and administered to everybody’s needs,” he said.

Hewes also pledged more transparency in government, saying hewould like to implement an Internet-based system used in otherstates that would display state contracts, salaries and projectcosts online.