EDITORIAL: Timely recess

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Legislature unsuccessfully moved on Monday toward a recess to await hard federal financial data for the 2011 budget when five Republicans on the House rules committee voted against a rules suspension resolution, killing it.
Many leaders in the House and Senate have supported a recess – probably until May 1 – so that funding levels for programs like Medicaid would be more fully known. The 2011 fiscal year begins July 1.
In 2009, legislators in both parties and Gov. Barbour were roundly criticized for absolute last-minute budget enactment – pushing passage until near the midnight deadline on June 30. However, that included a tense standoff over hospital taxation, but it did not include uncertainty about federal Medicaid funding levels because the stimulus package had been passed.
Mississippi faces cuts if the federal funds are not extended for six months at current levels. If action is taken and funding is too high or too low a special session would seem inevitable, defeating any claimed efficiency for staying in session rather than taking a timely recess.
A new rules suspension can be undertaken, and we hope the Republicans who voted no on Monday will rethink their position.
Medicaid provides health insurance coverage for the poor, for children, and for pregnant women, and in Mississippi the client/patient base is about 600,000 people, including thousands of children.
The extension would relieve Mississippi taxpayers of about $200 million in direct costs for the state’s share at the 2010 service level, a sizable obstacle to overcome if it’s not available.
Medicaid spending in Mississippi tops $4 billion, about 76 percent financed by federal money, and it is the financial backing behind thousands of jobs in the health-care and medical services sectors.
The federal funding for an extension has passed the U.S. House and Senate, but with additional votes and possible changes required, possibly in conference committee.
The Legislature is supposed to adjourn this year after a 90-day session, but if it cannot accurately pass a 2011 budget within that time a recess is a reasonable option.
Most other states are caught in the same information bind – waiting for federal action to balance their budgets.
Last year, the Division of Medicaid and Gov. Barbour pledged to “continue to work with federal officials to make sure the state will meet the federal requirements to receive the stimulus dollars available for 10/1/2008 –12/31/2010.”
That’s more than 82 percent of every dollar. Delay the process and see what the funding will be.