JACKSON – Late Monday night, House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, announced that an agreement had been reached on funding for Medicaid that if passed today would fund the agency for the fiscal year beginning Wednesday.
An agreement for Medicaid, which provides health care for about 600,000 elderly, disabled and poor pregnant women and children, is the primary issue left to be dealt with during the current special session.
Gov. Haley Barbour called the special session to try to reach an agreement on the state budget before Wednesday.
About 11:05 p.m. Monday, McCoy announced from the House floor that an agreement had been reached and that Barbour would include the issue in the special session agenda.
“We will be ready to go on it in the morning,” McCoy said before adjourning the House after what was a long Monday.
For the second day in a row, the Legislature worked until nearly midnight to beat the clock and pass a budget to prevent the possible shutdown of much of state government.
The $2.5-billion budget to fund public education was among the dozens of appropriations bills passed Monday.
Early Monday Barbour included all budget bills in the special session with the exception of Medicaid. Barbour had said that he would not include Medicaid in the special session until House and Senate negotiators reach agreement with him on issues surrounding a hospital tax increase, which he has strongly advocated.
At times Monday, it appeared the negotiators were close to an agreement. Finally, the agreement was reached shortly after Barbour and House Medicaid Chairman DIrk Dedeaux, D-Gulfport, met alone outside of the House chamber.
If an agreement is not reached, passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Barbour by midnight tonight, it is not clear what the impact will be on the 600,000 Medicaid recipients.
“I am hopeful it (an agreement) will get done,” said Rep. Jack Gadd, D-Hickory Flat. “I think it will get done…I can’t imagine why it would not get done.”
There were other disagreements Monday, but none as major as Medicaid.
Late Monday, the House and Senate passed and sent to the governor legislation to increase the taxes on small cigarette companies that did not participate in the lawsuit settlement with the state. Under the proposal, the tax on the small companies will be increased 25 cents per pack.
The revenue generated from the cigarette tax hike is crucial to the budget agreement worked out by House and Senate negotiators and Barbour.
While there were some stumbling blocks, several budget bills, such as that for public education, were passed and sent to the governor.
The budget fully funds most aspects of public education, including the Mississippi Adequate Education, the gifted program, special education and the salary supplement for nationally board certified teachers.
It was made easier to fully fund public education, thanks to $111.5 million in federal stimulus funds.
In total, the $6-billion general fund budget includes $444.8 million in stimulus funds for the upcoming fiscal year, including $256.1 million for Medicaid – if and when Medicaid is finally included in the agenda and passed.
Efforts of several Northeast Mississippi legislators to provide additional funds to help local governments hold down the cost of car tags is still being debate.
The governor did include language to allow an additional $38 million to be put in the car tag fund. Sens. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, and Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, two key members of the Senate’s leadership, said those funds would ensure that car tags costs remain about the same as they are for the current year.
But many, including Sens. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, and Bill Stone, D-Ashland, and Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, said additional funds are needed to keep car tags costs at the same level.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal