Posturing, little action on state budget

JACKSON – Little progress was made Wednesday as the Legislature continued its efforts to develop a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
House and Senate negotiators met sporadically Wednesday in efforts to reach a compromise. The Legislature was supposed to have a budget agreement in early April.
Lead House negotiator Rep, Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said the disagreement still revolves around the Senate’s desire to set aside $60 million in funds to be spent by the 2011 Legislature, resulting in deep cuts this year.
Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, the lead Senate negotiator, said the money needs to be saved to soften the blow of future budgets woes that are expected to be even more dire than they are now.
Stringer said the state has reserves, totaling more than $700 million that can be used to deal with future budget problems.
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Haley Barbour slammed the House budget proposal, saying it was fiscally irresponsible. He specifically criticized the House proposal for leaving Medicaid $80 million less than full funding and for relying on reserve funds that he said would not be available.
Stringer countered that the House proposal spends $39 million less than the governor on Medicaid, but $50 million more than the Senate. The governor also continued to advocate a $90 million hospital tax increase, which was rejected earlier by both chambers.
In action on the House floor, Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, selected Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, to replace Dirk Dedeaux, D-Gulfport, as a key Medicaid negotiator. Dedeaux is taking a family vacation.
“While I am not in Jackson, I will not be receiving legislative pay for this extended session,” Dedeaux said.
In the Senate, Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, made the recommendation to Lt. Gov. Phil Byrant that Nunnelee and the other two Senate negotiators be replaced on the issue of trying to agree on how to fund Medicaid. Dearing said the rules allow the lieutenant governor to change the negotiators when an agreement can not be reached.
But Bryant said he believes the Senate negotiators are doing “an excellent job. I do not believe we have reached a level of an impasse.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal