By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON – Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and Democratic House Speaker Billy McCoy exchanged sharp words Wednesday about the Mississippi budget, but it remained unclear when Barbour might make a new round of spending cuts.
Barbour said in a written statement the House is trying to grab too much money from the state’s rainy day fund, which has a balance of about $231 million.
“We know revenues will stay low in each of the next several years, so we must preserve as much as prudently possible in the rainy day fund for the lean years ahead,” Barbour said in a written statement.
McCoy said in his own news release that the House has compromised with Barbour and the Senate the past few years in deciding how much to spend from financial reserves.
“We’ve had a flood of bad financial weather but storm clouds will go away,” McCoy said. “Now is the time to wisely use some of our savings accounts.”
A bill that passed the House 70-49 on Tuesday would require Barbour to take $50 million from the rainy day fund and to use $61 million of federal stimulus money. McCoy said Barbour has “squirreled away” the stimulus money without telling lawmakers how it would be spent.
Barbour said Wednesday he worries that putting the stimulus money into certain parts of the state budget might violate federal regulations, prompting a demand for repayment from the federal government.
Mississippi started the fiscal year last July 1 with an almost $6 billion budget. Because revenues have fallen far short of expectations, Barbour has already cut $226 million, meaning most agencies have lost about 5 percent of their money.
Barbour said this week that another $211 million in cuts could be needed before June 30, and he wants to make those cuts soon so agencies can adjust their spending. He also wants the flexibility to cut the budgets of some agencies more than others.
Barbour also said during his State of the State speech Monday that the state might have to release up to 4,000 prisoners if the Department of Corrections budget is cut 8.1 percent.
The Senate has voted to give Barbour the flexibility he wants, but the House has balked. Under the bill that passed the House Tuesday, Barbour would have to make about $10 million in cuts after spending some of the financial reserves.
The House bill has been sent to a Senate committee for more work. It’s unclear whether the two chambers will resolve their differences.
Barbour said he might make cuts this week, but he hasn’t specified when.
McCoy said if there are deep budget cuts, the governor and the Senate will have “blood on their hands” because the House has tried to minimize a loss in services.
The bill is House Bill 392.