Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Better Mississippi Report breaks some budget negotiations news

From Better Mississippi Report today:

Barbour objections halt state budget negotiations
Presidential campaigning leaves him unable to meet with lawmakers until Wednesday
JACKSON (Tuesday, March 22, 2011) – Two key House leaders said today they were making major progress with Senate negotiators in crafting a new state budget – until Gov. Haley Barbour threw a last-minute curve.

State Reps. Johnny Stringer and Cecil Brown said House and Senate negotiators have agreed on about 75 percent to 80 percent of the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But Barbour – who has been out of state, flying across the country and campaigning for president – effectively stopped negotiations after he voiced opposition to the budget compromise in a letter distributed late Monday.

“We were making such good progress,” said Stringer, who chairs the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. “We thought we may get out of here (early) and save the taxpayers money. This has halted all negotiations.”

House and Senate members are in the final days of the 2011 legislative session. Negotiators face a Saturday deadline for filing a compromise state budget; House and Senate members are expected to begin approving individual budget bills Sunday.

Stringer and Brown briefed members of the news media Tuesday about the status of budget talks. Meanwhile, Barbour was in Nevada hobnobbing with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval and talking up a possible presidential bid.

Stringer plans to meet with Barbour at noon Wednesday. Stringer said he wanted to meet today – he suggested meeting Barbour at the airport for a “touch-and-go” so the governor could continue his travels – but the offer was declined.

Stringer and Brown said they and Senate negotiators have agreed on the amount of revenue the state has to spend. They said the House and Senate are not that far apart on spending issues.

“We’ve had a great working relationship with the Senate,” Brown said.

Brown said one of his biggest concerns is that the governor wants to maintain level funding. But, Brown said, that is impossible given the increase in expenses mandatory for some agencies.

The only way to accomplish that, he said, would be to cut $65 million from public education funding – something that the House will not support.

Over the last four years, he said, lawmakers cut $300 million from kindergarten-12th grade funding. He said 2,000 school personnel have been laid-off, including 800 teachers and 1,200 other school workers.

Cutting education again would be harmful and pass the tax burden to county and city school districts that may, in turn, have to raise local property taxes.

“Tomorrow is our working deadline for the budget so the staff can get (individual budget) bills done,” Brown said. “We can’t do anything today or tonight because we can’t meet with the governor until tomorrow because we’ve got to meet with the governor on his schedule.”

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