The plan is to complete all work except the state budget by early next week and then recess.
Legislators still hope to finish their work within the scheduled 90-day session – just not consecutive days. They are expected to work through the weekend to resolve all issues except the budget, and preserve as many days as possible for what is expected to be a tough budgeting process when they return in April.
One key issue that legislators thought they had resolved is the bond package for the year.
On Wednesday night, House and Senate leaders announced agreement on bond packages totaling about $600 million to provide funds for highways, including roads in Northeast Mississippi leading to the yet-to-be-opened Toyota manufacturing plant.
The package also included the sale of bonds to finance long-term projects at universities and community colleges and for tourism sites across the state.
One of the tourism projects was $2.8 million to enhance the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum in Tupelo. It was previously reported that a smaller amount had been dedicated to the attraction, but further research showed that it would get $2.8 million.
But on Thursday all of the bond proposals were in at least a little jeopardy after House and Senate leaders decided negotiations were needed.
Both House Ways and Means Chair Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, and Senate Finance Chair Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said they expected the remaining differences would be resolved.
By about 7 p.m. Thursday, another agreement had been hammered out on the transportation bond package, but not the bond package for the universities, community colleges and tourism projects.
Also on Thursday, House and Senate leaders agreed on how much money would be available to appropriate when the Legislature returns April 20.
They agreed to spend tax collections and reserve funds totaling $5.5 billion, which is essentially the same amount of money being spent this fiscal year after about $500 million in budget cuts enacted by Gov. Haley Barbour.
Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said reaching an agreement on the amount to spend “was in my view the most significant obstacle to reaching (an overall) budget agreement.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant agreed.
“Agreeing upon our revenue is the most challenging part of the budget process, and today’s action by the Senate and House budget negotiators allows us to now start finalizing a fiscal 2011 budget,” Bryant said.
A key to reaching that agreement, Nunnelee said, was Barbour’s relenting on his demand that the Legislature appropriate only 98 percent of the estimated tax collections. Barbour had threatened to veto budgets based on 100 percent of the appropriation.
By the time legislators return next month, they hope to know if they will have an additional $187 million in federal stimulus funds to plug into the budget. Legislation to provide the states additional stimulus funds has passed both chambers of the U.S. Congress, but in differing forms.