Budget negotiations remain close to complete

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House and Senate negotiators continued to work Thursday to reach agreement on how to divvy up close to $5.6 billion in tax revenue to fund state government ranging from education to public safety to health care.
Like Wednesday, negotiators said they were close, but still working on minor details.
Few numbers were available Thursday of how that final agreement would look.
“We’re extremely close,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, who said much of the work now involved meeting with agency heads about whether to allow them to keep in their budget money for positions that have been vacant, but might need to be filled during the upcoming fiscal year.
The negotiations have been a little less difficult because of an additional $97 million made available to appropriate in recent days because tax collections have been better than expected.
“You threw that money on the table and heard a giant sucking sound,” said House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, who said those funds went to various critical needs.
Both Appropriations chairs said that they believe no agency would suffer cuts that will force dramatic changes. Still, most agencies, including education, most likely still will be funded at a level below what they were receiving before the national downturn in the economy in 2008.
Many other pieces of legislation also are in conference where House and Senate negotiators are trying to work out differences. Those bills include issues dealing with charter schools, pre-kindergarten programs, bond bills to finance long-term construction projects and tax breaks for businesses.
The Legislature is expected to work this Easter weekend as it tries to finish its work before the session scheduled final day on April 7.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com