House leaders hope for budget deal

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House leaders passed a proposal out of the Appropriations Committee late Wednesday to restore a portion of the governor’s budget cuts.
Those leaders hope the proposal, which they call a compromise, will be agreeable to a majority of both chambers.
“We’re thinking this is a good compromise that Republicans and Democrats can go along with,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose.
Gov. Haley Barbour has made cuts of $458.5 million this fiscal year because state tax collections are not meeting projections. Many are predicting the layoff of state employees, including teachers, and the loss of state services unless some of the cuts are restored.
The bill passed Wednesday by the Appropriations Committee would restore $79 million of the cuts.
Stringer said that number is significant because it is halfway between the $100 million the House passed earlier to restore cuts and the $58 million the Senate passed last week to do the same.
The bulk of the money to restore the cuts, in both bills, would come from the tobacco trust fund. The state currently has reserve funds of more than $500 million, including more than $200 million in the tobacco trust fund.
But Barbour and other legislators have resisted spending any of those funds this year because those reserves could be needed in coming years.
In recent weeks, however, Barbour has relented, indicating he would accept taking some money out of the tobacco trust fund to restore cuts he has made.
The legislation passed Wednesday by the Appropriations Committee would restore $38 million of the more than $200 million cut from kindergarten through 12th grade education and would restore $14.5 million of the $78.9 million slashed from higher education, including the community colleges.
The bill also restores a portion of the cuts in a number of other areas, such as in the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Health.
The bill would provide the Department of Corrections $1 million to restore cuts of $28 million. The governor has been insistent that any legislation to restore cuts also should provide additional funding to the Department of Corrections.
It wasn’t clear late Wednesday when Stringer would take up the legislation on the House floor. Legislators were working late Wednesday to pass bills pending in each chamber before a key deadline tonight.
The House and Senate leadership were not certain late Wednesday if they would try to go home today because of possible snow or remain in Jackson.