EDITORIAL: Finding agreement

Negotiating legislators, working against a tightening deadline to craft a 2010 budget before July 1, appeared to make progress during the weekend in their months-long effort to resolve many differences – by party, chamber, committee, individual and branch of government – in finalizing $5 billion in spending and taxation.
A bellwether breakthrough may have happened when the chairmen of Medicaid oversight committees in the Senate and House signed a proposal for taxing hospitals in support of adequately funding Medicaid, the health care insurance program for the poor, including children.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, chairs Public Health, and Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Gulfport, chairs Medicaid. Bryan said such agreements have to take in the other side’s positions – issues the other side, whichever that may be, finds objectionable.
That is the language of meaningful, workable compromise, reaching toward goals more important than even strongly held specific points.
What cannot go unnoticed is the lowering volume and softened timbre of rhetoric among those with differences but still negotiating. Where public animosity with bared political fangs have been the rule, the public statements, at least, have become more temperate.
We hope that is a sign of substantial movement toward acceptable middle ground among conferees and those brought into the negotiations by sphere of oversight, interest and influence.
At the same time, state responsibilities involving thousands of employees and hundreds of millions in contracts for services and goods, are on the line. The Mississippi Department of Transportation mailed letters, as required by law, to contractors involved in about $500 million worth of work, telling them their contract will be terminated June 30 if a budget for the new fiscal year, beginning July 1, is not in place. If terminated, new contracts must be bid, and that could take as long as a year.
Even more dire is the unknown fate of Medicaid’s 600,000 clients.
Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said negotiators had agreed on the amount available for spending, but allocations had not been ironed out.
Late Friday afternoon, Gov. Barbour said in the context of a press conference that an agreement must satisfy the House, the Senate and the governor, and that, of course, is the preferred and easiest route to enactment.
It is possible, however, for the House and Senate to agree, for the governor to veto, and then for the House and Senate to override the governor.
No one is mentioning such a confrontation at this point, but it should not be ruled out if the governor’s preferences stand in the way of the state’s welfare.

NEMS Daily Journal