Lawmakers satisfied with new year budget

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, April 3, 2011

Area lawmakers deemed a $5.5 billion new year budget as the bestpossible deal for the state as a whole and for Lincoln County inparticular.

Legislators are scheduled to return to Jackson Monday to formallyapprove the budget that was agreed to by House and Senatenegotiators this past week. Budget discussions and rules regardingmoney bills forced an extension of the session that was to endSaturday, but lawmakers were satisfied with the ultimateagreement.

“I think we came to be best compromise we could for the state,”said District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven.

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District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven, agreed.

“We came out as best we could overall,” the senator said.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, was less enthusiasticbut still indicated satisfaction with budget issues.

“By and large, it was OK,” he said.

Moak, like some House Democrats, took issue with Gov. HaleyBarbour’s involvement in the budget talks. He said House and Senatenegotiators had agreed two weeks ago on a budget, but Barbour cameback from out of state and sought to have another $77 million incuts.

“That’s basically what we’ve been working on for the last twoweeks,” Moak said.

Ultimately, Moak said, there was less than a $5 million differencefrom budget talks two weeks ago to the final agreement. He wassatisfied with funding for mental health, homestead exemption andeducation.

“Mental health gets the money they need to continue doing what theyneed to do,” said Moak, mentioning state crisis centers, includingone located in Brookhaven.

Moak said homestead exemption reimbursements to counties was lessthan desired, but still acceptable.

“It shouldn’t be enough so that local taxes have to be raised,”said Moak, citing an overall budget concern.

Level education funding was approved as part of the budgetdeal.

“It’s a number they can live with so there are no Draconian cuts,”Moak said.

Currie also touted the level funding plan, plus revenue from afederal jobs bill that school districts were advised to save foruse next year. With money from federal, state and local sources,the representative said districts should have more money to spendthis year than last.

“They should be better off,” Currie said.

Locally, lawmakers were pleased with budget results for LincolnCounty. In addition to the mental health facilities such as thecrisis center and the Mississippi Adolescent Center, theMississippi School of the Arts was also approved for funding.

“We may not have gotten anything new, but we maintained,” Curriesaid. “In this climate, I think that’s the best we could hope todo.”

Hyde-Smith expressed similar sentiments.

“As a whole, Brookhaven and Lincoln County came out as well ascould be expected,” she said.

All the lawmakers also commented on the difficulties in crafting abudget under difficult economic conditions.

“We’re going to have to be smart with how we spend our money,”Currie said.

Hyde-Smith called the session a “strange” one with a number ofcomplications, such as an unresolved legislative redistrictingdispute.

“It was a tough session,” she said. “The general consensus is thiswas the toughest session that a lot of folks can remember.”

Moak pointed out that more than $500 million has been cut fromstate operational costs over the last four years. He said thatamount was significant and that it has meant an average cut tostate agencies of about 12 percent.

“Some have experienced more, of course,” he said.

Moak touted that the current budget agreement still leaves morethan $200 million in reserves for next year. That money could beneeded as economic indicators suggest not much of an improvementnext year.

“Nobody expects (the economy) to pick up and run away,” Moak said.”Next year’s budget process won’t be any easier than this year’shas been.”