House tries to ease pain of gov.’s cuts

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The state House is expected to take up legislation today to restore $100 million of the $437.5 million Gov. Haley Barbour has cut out of the budget for the current fiscal year.
Barbour announced his latest round of cuts – about $216 million – on Friday. Those reductions, combined with cuts in September and December, mean that he has reduced most state agencies 8.2 percent.
He is making the cuts because state revenue collections are coming in below the amount needed to fund state government.
On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee passed legislation to take $50 million out of a $230 million rainy day fund and $50 million out of a $200 million tobacco trust fund to restore some of the money.
The bulk of the funds would go to education, public safety and health care.
“This will make the situation somewhat bearable,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville.
Appropriations Committee Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said he would take up the legislation before the full House today.
Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said he opposed the legislation because “I don’t want to spend any of the rainy day fund money in the current year. I want to save it for the out years. I am concerned that we are going to get to the point where we are going to have to make ‘draconian cuts’ once the one-time money is gone.”
Barbour also has opposed using any additional rainy day fund for the current year because he fears more difficult years ahead and because the state will be losing hundreds of millions in federal stimulus funds that are currently being used to prop up the budget.
But Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said the cuts already are draconian. Unless some of the cuts are restored, he said, the costs for veterans to reside in the state nursing homes will be increased by 10 percent or more from its current total of $61 per day.
Plus the state’s district attorneys said they are are preparing to lay off assistants, which would hurt their ability to prosecute criminal cases.
Under the House proposal, $43.4 million of the total would go to restore cuts to k-12 education, including funds to restore the salary supplement for nationally board certified teacher.
Higher education would receive $15.3 million, including $2.5 million to restore financial aid, while the community colleges would receive $6.8 million.
Other areas where funds would be restored: the district attorneys, the courts, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Health and the tax commission.
A tax commission representative said the cuts would hurt the agency’s ability to collect revenue for the state.

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