State leaders deciding on $5B budget

JACKSON – The Legislature will return to the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon with hopes of having a budget agreement to approve or reject.
On Friday, the Legislature took its third recess of the 2009 session while key House and Senate leaders continue to negotiate on how to divvy up about $5 billion to fund state government.
The Legislature was supposed to have been finished with its budget work in early April.
If an agreement is not reached by the beginning of the new budget year on July 1, it is not clear what will happen. That has not occurred in recent memory.
“We’re going to have a budget. We know that,” said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.
But he couldn’t say when, only that “we’re creeping closer.”
If that agreement is not reached Wednesday, the Legislature faces some tough decisions: allow the regular session to end and be called back in special session by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour to work on a budget, or suspend the rules by a two-thirds vote of both chambers to allow the regular session to continue.
On Friday, the House came up three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to extend the session.
Most Democrats argued that it makes more sense to continue the regular session because a special session would mean the budgeting process would have to begin from scratch.
That would be costly. Plus, a special sessions costs about $20,000 more per day than does a regular session.
People who voted against the rules suspension were of two minds.
Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said he voted against it because in special session Republican Gov. Haley Barbour would have more control of the agenda.
But Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, said he voted against extending the session because he wanted the pressure of a deadline on the budget negotiators. He believes that pressure might lead to an agreement.
“It won’t be too late next week to suspend the rules, Beckett said.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, said he would prefer to complete the work in regular session, but at some point a special session might be the better option.
Bryant said that despite the disagreement with the House leaders on the budget, “they have been honorable statesmen.”
Both Bryant and McCoy agreed there was no need for the entire Legislature to remain in Jackson and draw expense payments while negotiators work.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal