Barbour adds ‘new dynamic’ to difficult budget talks

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour was back for less than 24 hours from his economic development trip to Paris before he added a new obstacle Friday for House and Senate budget negotiators.
Previously, Barbour had said he would call a special session for the full Legislature to take up a budget proposal when House and Senate leaders reached an agreement.
But during a news conference Friday afternoon, the Republican Barbour said, “It takes three to agree – the House, the Senate and the governor. When there is an agreement, I will call a special session.”
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said the governor was essentially saying he would call a special session when the Legislature agrees with him.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, said the governor’s comments add “a new dynamic” to the negotiations.
“Our responsibility is to maintain our principles and get together a reasonable budget…and then present it to the governor,” Bryant said. “Then it is his decision.”
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said, “no governor has a right to be a dictator in this state. Gov. Barbour is seeking to be a dictator.”

Reporting progess
Before Barbour’s news conference, both House and Senate negotiators reported progress in trying to agree on a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Both sides said they would continue to meet today.
“We keep inching closer together,” Bryant said. It is not clear what will happen if a budget is not passed and signed into law by Barbour before July 1.
Bryant said a key compromise was reached when the House agreed to set aside $60 million for the 2010 legislative session because many believe that budget year will be even more difficult than the current one.
Barbour originally wanted $90 million set aside, but said he would yield to $60 million as the Senate wanted.
The other biggest difference concerns an increase in the taxes on hospitals.
The governor has demanded the tax be increased $90 million to help fund Medicaid. The House and Senate, during the recently completed 2009 session, essentially rejected any tax increase on hospitals.
Barbour said he would agree to a $60 million increase this year, $70 million next year and $90 million the following year.
The Democratic House leadership has indicated it is willing to go a high as $57 million with some provisions that might increase it in the future.
During Friday’s news conference, Barbour also announced that Medicaid is out of money for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, but that recipients would not be affected.
He said the situation means that providers will not be reimbursed for treating Medicaid recipients until after the new year begins.
And what if there is not a budget for the new fiscal year?
“We will have a budget, I think, before July 1, but if not, ultimately, Medicaid providers will be paid,” Barbour said.
Barbour said he has researched what could be done if there is no budget agreement, but he refused to give any details.
“I don’t anticipate vital services shutting down,” he said.
The Transportation Commission already is making plans to shut down all construction contracts in the state.
Education officials say many school districts have lost good teachers because they have been unwilling to offer them a contract until a state budget is passed.
“All this brinkmanship is crazy,” Brown said. “It doesn’t have to happen. It is crazy.”
Barbour this week had been in Paris with Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to build support for a U.S. military defense contract for a factory proposed in Mobile that would make aerial refueling tanker jets.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal