Mississippi Legislature

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 9, 2009





Legislators start new session with focus on weak economy

By Billy Davis

The Mississippi legislature convened in Jackson Tuesday, kicking off a 90-day session of the state House and Senate.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Topic A: how to respond to a sour economy. 

“The legislature is doing the same thing everybody’s doing in their household. We’re tightening our belt,” state Rep. Warner McBride said this week.

 State collections for December are $32 million below estimates, state officials have said, indicating an expected drop in revenue for state government. 

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has announced plans to trim the budgets of state agencies in response to the financial outlook.

The governor has the authority to trim those budgets by up to five percent, “and it looks like that’s what he’s going to do,” McBride, a Democrat, said.

Barbour and legislators are expected to wrangle over the details of a leaner state budget in coming weeks. Debate over spending priorities typically speeds up later in the session as legislators quibble over appropriating funds for the state’s 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The governor has pledged to leave intact spending on public education for K-12, but he has not made that same commitment for community colleges and four-year universities.

In the House, McBride and other legislators voted this week to restore $17 million for community colleges and the universities. The $17 million would come from the state’s rainy day fund.

House Bill 290 passed 87-34 on Wednesday and now goes to the state Senate. Local representatives Joe Gardner and Clara Burnett, both Democrats, also voted for the measure.

Pointing to job cuts and layoffs on the rise, McBride said the state should ensure stable funding for the community colleges, where laid-off workers often turn to job training for a new job. 

“We’re in bad shape, but our priority should be education,” said Gardner of the spending priorities.

How and when to utilize the state’s rainy day fund, now at $361 million, is expected to kick off even more debate.

“We are blessed with the rainy day fund, and we’re not going to throw it away,” said state Sen. Nolan Mettetal.

The rainy day fund should be handled carefully because it may be needed to help state government in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Mettetal said.

Mettetal, who switched to the Republican Party last year, predicted that the Senate would continue to act conservatively with taxpayers’ money.

“Our constituents are tightening their belts, and we’re no better than they are,” he said of the legislature.

Panola Countians can reach their state representative and state senator at the state capital at 601-359-3770.