EDITORIAL: Budget near?

Substantial progress in Mississippi legislators’ budget negotiations offers optimism that a long standoff involving the House, Senate and Gov. Barbour soon will end and the full Legislature can approve measures the governor will sign.
Encouraging reports have leaked sporadically during closed-door negotiations only to be dashed later.
A new budget year – 2010 – begins July 1, just 15 days ahead. If a new budget has not been adopted and signed the government could shut down, which is both unnecessary and dangerous.
The issues remaining were seen just days ago as virtually unbridgeable chasms: a “hospital tax” for funding Medicaid and savings set aside in the rainy day fund against anticipated funding shortfalls related to the recession in the next two budgets.
Negotiators seem likely to agree on an additional tax on inexpensive cigarettes on top of the 50-cent-a-pack increase that took effect May 15. The “inexpensive” cigarettes are the product what’s called non-participating manufacturers – companies that aren’t part of the tobacco settlement. That means they can sell their products more cheaply than big tobacco companies, whose cigarettes are priced to offset tobacco-lawsuit settlement payments that guarantee Mississippi about $100 million in annual payments forever.
The additional tax would bring in about $10 million in a year in which every penny counts.
The advocacy group the Parents Campaign reported that it “appears that schools will get full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, including the add-on portion … but that the cuts made to schools in 2009 will not be restored. The High School Redesign program also appears to lose its funding for the coming year.”
Most teachers statewide are waiting on contracts for the 2009-2010 academic year, which begins in early August in most districts. Medicaid clients and service providers wonder if funds will be available for that vital program serving 600,000 Mississippians.
Communications with elected officials about public business are always appropriate.
See the inset in this editorial for numbers of key elected leaders.

NEMS Daily Journal