Leaders: Budget accomplishes goals

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The budget agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators was greeted Thursday by expressions of satisfaction, or at least acceptance.
House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, acknowledged that the budget shifts some additional tax burden to local governments, but not to the degree that major increases in property taxes will be needed to offset cuts in state funds.
Stringer had said during the past two weeks of budget talks that preventing an additional tax burden on local governments was one of his goals.
Lt. Gov. Phil Byrant said that while the budget agreement was not perfect, it accomplished the important goals of providing level funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and of placing $206 million in reserves.
During a Thursday morning news conference, Gov. Haley Barbour also indicated he could support the agreement.
Barbour and the Senate leadership had at one point in the process advocated less state money for education and mental health. The disagreement over the amount to spend caused legislators to miss the deadline to pass a budget, forcing an extension of the session.
The agreement falls about $15 million short of full funding for kindergarten through 12th grade education. That shortfall includes a cut of about $5 million in the Adequate Education funds for high-growth districts and a cut of about $6 million in funds that go to local school districts to help hold down property taxes.
The total K-12 education budget is $2.23 billion, or about $235 million short of full funding. But there has been little talk of full funding for the past two years, since tax revenue began to plummet during the economic downturn.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said, “Whenever you compromise, you have a lot of give and take on both sides.”
The full Legislature is scheduled to take up the budget Monday. On Thursday, both the House and Senate extended the session, which was scheduled to end Saturday, to work out the details on the more than 50 bills that fund the $5.5 billion state general fund.
Also on Thursday, Barbour announced he would call a special session within the regular session to consider bond funds to build a civil rights museum and a Mississippi history museum in Jackson. That might be accomplished in regular session Monday.