Opinion – 3/28/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Panolian: OPINIONS – Rep. Morris & Rep. Burnett

 From the 3/28/06 issue of The Panolian       

Funding of public education discussed by Miss. House

Members of the Legislature hunkered down for a weekend of final negotiation on a wide variety of proposals as the 2006 regular session neared the finish line. The 90-day session is scheduled for sine die adjournment on Sunday, April 2.

The main task we faced on Saturday and Sunday, March 25-26, was hopefully to put the final touches on a state budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. We plan to appropriate approximately $4.2 billion in state general funds during FY 2007.

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As House and Senate fiscal leaders negotiated the budget, they were faced with deciding how much money would go to the K-12 public education system, funding for the university and community college system along with a promised pay raise for about 30,000 state employees. Late in the week it appeared that state employees could get a pay raise of at least $1,500 annually.

Week 12 of the session brought a failed attempt in the Senate to override Gov. Barbour’s veto of SB 2310, which would have reduced the sales tax on groceries and increased the tax on cigarettes. The attempt got a majority of votes in the Senate, but not enough for the two-thirds "super majority" required for a successful override. The House didn’t get a shot at an override, due to the failed Senate effort.

Still pending was SB 3084, another grocery tax-reduction, cigarette-tax increase that was vetoed by Barbour. Still another possible veto override attempt could come on HB 1115, which would provide $20 million in state funding annually for the Partnership For a Healthy Mississippi, a highly-successful smoking cessation program that has been operating for several years under a state court order.

Numerous "policy issue" bills were remaining to be settled at week’s end, including:

HB 1406 on new building codes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina;
HB 100 restricting the use by governments of eminent domain to grab private property;
HB 279 revising the right of a 12-year-old child to select a custodial parent;
HB 519 requiring better disclosure of campaign financial contributions;
HB 1089 creating a pilot project for hunting deer over baited fields;
SB 2511 allowing some first-time drug offenders to become eligible for parole;
SB 2527 strengthening sexual offender registration;
SB 2843 increasing weekly unemployment benefits;
 SB 2922 banning abortions with some exceptions;
SB 2942 creating a committee to study biodiesel fuels

Gov. Barbour said that the Mississippi Development Authority should have service centers operational by April 17 to begin the application process for the estimated 29,000 homeowners who qualify for grants to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. These homeowners "relied to their detriment" on the federal government with regard to flood insurance, and, therefore, most did not have the coverage when the storm hit.

Several other programs for devastated housing losses are in the works, the governor said. Public housing rental units for more than 10,000 low-income persons are in the works, along with a program for homeowners who had no type of insurance coverage. Another will provide assistance for the costs of elevation above the new flood plain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has a program for loans and grants to build or purchase a new home or repair an existing home.

We’ve gotten about $800 million already for transportation needs to rebuild federal highways.

Also in the pipeline is funding to cover our share of uncompensated care for medical services after Katrina. University Medical Center will get a large share of these funds.

At week’s end we had not received the final word on how much money — when we’ll get it and how we will use it — for our share of Medicaid services for beneficiaries in the state’s lower 49 counties, estimated to be some $345 million.

To follow the Legislature on the Internet, go to: . To contact a member of the Legislature at the Capitol, call 1-601-359-3770.



Burnett represents District 9 which includes portions of Panola, Quitman, Tate and Tunica Counties.
Morris represents Mississippi’s House District 11 which includes portions of Panola and Tate Counties.


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