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Mississippi legislator calls budget ‘deliberate wreckage’

JACKSON (AP) — The Mississippi legislature inched toward a budget Sunday, after a contentious process the day before.

Most major bills have yet to be hammered out in conference. The bills, known as “dummy bills” because they don’t have real dollar amounts attached to them, will theoretically be finalized by the time the legislature reconvenes Monday.

It isn’t clear whether this means that there will be any major changes in funding.

“We won’t know until the bitter end,” said David Baria, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis and chairman of the legislature’s Democratic Caucus.

Mississippi’s budget faces major reductions this year, between the legislature’s failure to come up with a bond bill — meaning the state can’t borrow money — and a $170 million cut from the governor.

While the House — usually the rowdier chamber — passed its bills without much ado, senators let their displeasure show as the night went on.

“This is not Hurricane Katrina — this is deliberate wreckage we have brought on ourselves,” said Sen. David Blount, a Democrat from Jackson, as the Senate debated a budget cut to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Addressing his Republican colleagues, he added: “You ran on cutting government. Why aren’t you all jumping up and down to cut this?”

The bill passed anyway.

On Saturday, House and Senate leaders were more than happy to trade budget blame. The inability to borrow will hurt institutions such as colleges that rely on a guaranteed cash flow from the state to fund multiyear projects.

The squabble boils down to a fight between leadership over a would-be internet sales tax wrapped into the bond bill that would have helped fix Mississippi’s ailing roads and bridges.

“The internet sales tax legislation that they pushed created fake money, in my opinion, and I simply wasn’t willing to do that,” the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, said Saturday night. “Evidently, internet sales tax was so important that they were willing to risk the bond bill.”

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, had a different take that day: “It should have been implemented, and we are so disappointed that it was not.”