Budget work about to begin earnest

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – With the session less than a month before its scheduled completion date of April 3, legislative leaders are expected to begin work in earnest on developing a budget for the 2011 fiscal year.
Last week, the state’s financial experts met to reach agreement on the amount of revenue they believe the state will take in during the 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is serving this year as chair of the Legislative Budget Committee, said he might call a meeting of the Budget Committee in the next week.
During the meeting, the Budget Committee, which consists of Bryant, Speaker Billy McCoy and 12 legislative leaders, will hear the recommendation of financial experts on the projected revenue collections for the upcoming fiscal year.
After hearing that recommendation, the Committee will vote on whether to accept it. Normally, the Budget Committee accepts the recommendation of the financial experts.
The revenue estimate adopted by the Budget Committee is crucial to the budgeting process because it represents the amount of money upon which the budget is built.
Last November, the Budget Committee and Gov. Haley Barbour adopted a revenue estimate for the 2011 fiscal year of $4.63 billion, based on the recommendation of the financial experts. But that estimate is expected to be lowered when the Budget Committee meets again in the coming days as state revenue collections have continued to sag.

Legislative leaders hope to finish on time despite budget woes

By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Last year the Legislature recessed the 2009 session for several weeks to garner more information about what federal stimulus funds would be available to plug in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
While some have speculated that the Legislature would break again this session before finishing work on the upcoming 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1, leaders in both the House and Senate say that is not their plan.
“My plan is to push ahead,” said Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate. “There is no reason we can’t get this budget done.”
Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said he agreed and plans to finish on schedule. The session is scheduled to end on April 3.
Over in the House, Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said, “There is no need for us not to finish our business.”
Last year legislators took a break in early April – four days before the scheduled end of the 90-day session – and came back in late May after they had a better understanding of how American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds could be used in the state budget. After returning, they didn’t reach a budget agreement until June 30 – literally hours before the new fiscal year began.
While pending federal legislation again this year could provide some relief for what will be another difficult budgeting task, no one expressed any desire to take a break and wait for the outcome of that legislation. Last year as part of the federal stimulus package, states were provided an enhanced Medicaid match.
Normally, the federal government provides 74 cents of each dollar spent on Medicaid in Mississippi with the state providing the rest. Medicaid provides health care for about 600,000 elderly, disabled and poor pregnant women and children in Mississippi.
As part of the stimulus package, that match was increased to 84 cents, literally saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars. There is support in Washington, including from President Barack Obama, to extend the enhanced match an additional six months through June 30, 2011.
If the enhanced match is extended, what will be a daunting task of crafting a budget because of an unprecedented drop in state tax collections could become easier.
Despite that, House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said the plan is to try to finish on time and not wait for Congress to act.
And if Congress does extend the match after a budget is in place in Mississippi, “we will have another $187 million to spend next year” during the 2011 session, Stringer said.
Gov. Haley Barbour is among the 47 governors who have sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them to extend the enhanced match.
A letter from the National Conference of State Legislatures said the enhanced Medicaid match “is a critical component of state efforts to provide assistance to individuals and families who have lost jobs and health insurance during our economic turmoil.”