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Lawmakers miss deadline for budget OK

Mississippi lawmakers braced for extended budget negotiations onSunday after failing to agree Saturday on a spending plan for thenew state fiscal year that starts July 1.

Legislators missed a Saturday night deadline to agree on a $5.5billion state budget for fiscal year 2012. Earlier in the evening,discussions were stalled and overall agreement was not forthcomingas the deadline approached.

“Right now, we’re at an impasse,” said District 39 Sen. CindyHyde-Smith, adding that negotiators were trying to agree on budgettotals for each state agency. “We’re trying to come up with budgetfigures for 2012.”

Failing to meet the deadline could require an extension of the 2011legislative session. Budget bills cannot be acted upon in thewaning days of a session.

Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven, was cautiously optimistic that lawmakerscould use a legislative maneuver to extend the session “on paper,”reach an agreement and still be able to conclude business on thescheduled April 2 ending date.

” Hopefully, we can come to an agreement by (Sunday) night,” shesaid.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, was monitoring eventsat the state Capitol from Connecticut, where he was chairing ameeting for the national Council on State Governments. He wasexpecting to return to Mississippi for Sunday’s session.

Moak said there was agreement on some smaller issues, butdifferences remained on others.

“Some of those are going to be resolved, but not the bigger issuesright now,” Moak said.

As for issues affecting Lincoln County, Hyde-Smith offered someassurances.

“Overall, I don’t see anything on the chopping block at all,” shesaid.

Regarding the county’s mental health facilities, the senator saidthey were looking for their Medicaid matching funds. Hyde-Smithsaid lawmakers were trying to determine the best way for the budgetto handle those funding requests.

Hyde-Smith anticipated funding for the Mississippi School of theArts to remain at its 2010 level.

“I think that’s the best we can do,” the senator said.

Moak was more general in his assessment on budget moves and theirpotential impact on Lincoln County. He said education, mentalhealth and homestead exemption reimbursements were all itemstargeted for reduction when Gov. Haley Barbour asked House leadersto trim $77 million from statewide budget totals earlier in theweek.

“All three of those things affect our county, and we would have tomake up that funding somehow,” Moak said. “Quite honestly, I don’tthink we could make that up.”