Budget flap spurs questions on services

JACKSON – Everyone seems to agree that some state services will shut down next week if Gov. Haley Barbour does not call a special session soon to give the Legislature an chance to vote on a state budget.
But on Thursday, it appeared that there were more questions than answers about which services would continue if no budget is signed into law by Wednesday, the start of the new fiscal year.
“I can tell you there will be significant issues if we don’t get a budget by July,” Barbour admitted during a Thursday morning news conference in Jackson. “We can go forward, but there are agencies that will incur significant problems.”
He cited the Department of Transportation as an example. It is set to shut down $500 million in highway construction contracts that, transportation commissioners say, will put road construction years behind schedule because the contracts will have to be rebid.
But Barbour, whose news conference was sandwiched between GOP fundraising events in New Hampshire and Iowa, maintains he can run much of state government through executive order.
Barbour has refused to call a special session because he does not like the Medicaid portion of the budget agreement reached this past weekend by House and Senate negotiators.
On Thursday, the House and Senate negotiators tried to reach an agreement with Barbour. Late in the day, no deal had been reached and no special session called, although Senate negotiator Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the governor offered a counterproposal that Bryan said was a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jim Hood said his office is researching what would happen if no agreement is reached.
Based on court rulings in other states, Hood said offices and services identified in the Constitution could continue to draw money to operate from the treasury at the same rate as in the past budget year.
Hood said those services would include schools, since the Constitution calls for the state to provide a public education. It also would include prisons and mental health facilities.
But he said the Constitution does not provide for a Department of Public Safety or for a Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to monitor the highways and waterways for the upcoming July 4 holiday.
He said the impasse also will affect the state Crime Lab’s ability to complete investigations.
“If the governor wants to sit up there and let our Public Safety Department shut down, our Crime Lab, which has murder cases that we’re working on, shut down, then that blood’s going to be on his hands,” Hood said outside of the state Capitol during an impromptu new conference.
Hood said non-essential agencies could continue to operate, but could not draw money from the treasury.
He said he would go to court to get an injunction to prevent that from happening, saying the authority of the Legislature to appropriate funds is one of “the most revered” duties spelled out in the Constitution and should not be sidestepped.
On Thursday morning, before leaving for Iowa, Barbour remained confident that a budget accord will be reached before Wednesday, and lawmakers were ready to look for a solution.
“This is the first time I can remember in quite a while that I hope I am working this weekend,” said Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.
Like the governor, Bryant opposes portions of the Medicaid agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators, even though he selected the Senate negotiator, Bryan, who helped to develop the deal.
At issue is the governor’s desire to increase the taxes on hospitals $90 million. House and Senate negotiators agreed to a $60 million tax increase after both chambers earlier this year rejected any tax increase for hospitals.
In exchange for the increase, the House and Senate negotiators said the governor could not make cuts in the hospitals’ Medicaid reimbursements.
Barbour wants to retain the ability to cut the hospitals’ payments if there is a deficit in Medicaid.

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

User comments from previous stories
Tam51: Wow, this guy (Barbour) is a piece of work, isn’t he? All the makings of a dictator.

I’m a Republican,but, he’s enough to make me want to change parties.

Run for President??? Isn’t the country in bad enough shape already? He’ll finish us off!!!

mryhenry125:i was personally guaranteed by a state senator that the 60 million given by the federal government would only be used for that purpose and no other reason, well what happened the unemployed

I would like to know where the 60 million dollars went to that was given in the stimulus package for the unemployed, people who have lost their jobs and until they found another one rest assured it did not go to the unemployed, and i was asured by a state senator that money could not be used for anything other than that purpose it did not go to the the unemployed they are pocketing it into a reserve for 2010, where else would they have got it from, talking about people breaking laws they are no exception to the rule yet they are getting away with it, somebody needs to get on top of this and no need to go to the senators been there done that, maybe the federal governments needs to take back charge of the money as it seems they seem to think they can use it for whatever Barbour pleases.

What do you think? Comment below

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio