House budget proposal rejected

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – With the specter of about $190 million in budget cuts coming as early as today, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said Thursday he does not intend to take up a House plan to offset some of the reductions.
The House passed a proposal Tuesday to take abut $110 million from reserve funds to offset some of the reductions and to limit Gov. Haley Barbour’s ability to cut in other areas.
The Senate proposal would allow the governor to make cuts of his choosing up to 10 percent of the total budget of most agencies, as he has requested. Under that plan, most agencies would absorb the full 10 percent cut.
The House rejected the Senate proposal on Tuesday after hearing arguments that a cut of that magnitude would result in layoffs and the loss of state services, including for the mentally ill and for education.
Nunnelee said Thursday, “I don’t intend to take up the House bill. I have serious reservations about taking additional money from the rainy day fund this year. If we are not careful, there will be no money left in the rainy day fund and we still have storm clouds on the horizon.”
The House proposes to take $50 million from the $230 million rainy day fund. The House also proposes using $61 million in federal stimulus funds that the governor controls.
Nunnelee said the governor has only $53.6 million in stimulus funds, but much of that has been committed, and he believes it would be illegal to use those funds to offset shortfalls in state revenue.
But Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said during debate on the House floor, “That is what they are for.”
Dan Turner, a spokesman for the governor, said he did not know if the governor might make the cuts today.
“Something has to happen soon,” Turner said.
Late Thursday, Barbour’s office announced that he would hold a news conference at 11 a.m. today “on continuing efforts to balance the state budget for Fiscal Year 2010.”

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