Legislators take break from new year budget talks

Published 6:38 pm Monday, March 29, 2010

Even if the Legislature’s one-month hiatus proves fruitful forbuilding a more accurate budget for fiscal year 2011, additionalrevenue accrued during the break will not be added into theweakened budget, local lawmakers said.

The session is still ongoing, but legislators won’t reconvene atthe Capitol until April 20, when the state will hopefully know moreabout a possible $187 million Medicaid appropriation that could becoming from the federal government. Lawmakers agreed to take thedowntime and wait for the money – which could free up more fundsand lessen the impact of cuts in other areas – and investigate asmall increase in tax revenues reported this year.

But even if the March numbers are favorable, next year’s budgetwill still be crafted at $500 million less than last year’s,bringing the total from $6 billion to $5.5 billion, local lawmakersagreed.

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“If March’s revenue and half of April’s were double what they werelast year, I don’t think that would have any effect on the numbersthat have been set,” said District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello.”It’s been on the downturn so many months, even if it did have anuptick for one month you wouldn’t want to budget the rest of theyear based on that one-month surge.”

Evans said the $500 million in cuts would be shared by all stateagencies, likely based on the percentages of cuts already enactedto the fiscal year 2010 budget.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said state agencydirectors would play a big role in managing the cuts, predictingseveral requests for furloughs and other downsizing methods whenthen Legislature reconvenes.

“State government is not going to overspend because we can’t,” hesaid. “The most important thing is to make sure you deliverservices with the tax money you have. People are working on leanerbudgets, and they’re finding out they can do it without justslashing employees and how you deliver services to thepublic.”

Moak did say, however, that he would extend the session furtherthan April 20 to gauge the slight revenue increase.

“Things have been picking up just a little, little, little bit,” hesaid. “This is such an unusual time we should make sure we knowwhat our numbers are, and I’m not one who wants to put the governorin a position to make cuts as soon as we complete the 2011numbers.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, is opposed to addingany additional money to the $5.5 billion spending plan. Even if the$187 million federal appropriation is awarded in time for inclusionin the 2011 budget, she suggested saving the money until next year,when then 2012 budget is predicted to be one of the biggestshortfalls the Legislature has ever faced.

“If we get this one-time money of $187 million, yes, we could plugsome budget holes. But we’re all sitting here knowing next yearwill be 100 times worse,” Currie said. “We’ve got to stop usingthis one-time money to plug these holes. We’re just making promiseswe can’t keep.”