Budget negotiators meet for first time since recess

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House and Senate leaders finally met face to face Tuesday to work on crafting a budget compromise before the full Legislature returns next week.
“We are working,” said House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, who met Tuesday at the state Capitol with Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and other key budget leaders. “It is too soon to say how it is going.
“We have agreed on the easy ones,” he said, referring to agency budgets. “I don’t know if you can say we are close.”
House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, added, “You are never close until you get a deal.”
The House and Senate agreed to recess at the end of March until April 20 to gather more information before completing work on a budget. By recessing, they said, they would have another month of tax collections to consider in trying to determine if state revenue was improving or continuing to come in at historically low levels.
Tax collections made a modest recovery in March, but most agree not enough to indicate any type of trend.
Legislators also were hoping to know by April 20 whether Congress was going to appropriate an additional $187 million to Mississippi to help with the Medicaid program during the tough economic times. The additional federal Medicaid money would free funds to help in other areas.
It appears doubtful now that Congress will have approved the additional Medicaid funds by the time the Legislature returns.
Tuesday was the first time the budget negotiators have met face to face since the Legislature recessed on March 27, though Nunnelee said they had been talking on the phone.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Stringer proposed that a budget deal be worked out with the stipulation that the additional federal Medicaid money will be plugged into the budget when Congress finally acts.
But if money is not available for the full fiscal year, a pro rata share would be spent and the rest would be put aside until the following fiscal year.
The state fiscal year begins on July 1.
House and Senate leaders are expected to continue to meet for the next few days.