State Legislature

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 7, 2010

Legislators convene with all eyes on state’s budget crunch

By Billy Davis

The budget crisis facing Mississippi state government is expected to dominate the current legislative session, which kicked off Tuesday at the state capital in Jackson.

State revenues are reeling from the current recession, and legislators are grappling with worrisome budget shortfalls. The state of Mississippi, per state law, must show a balanced budget.

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The political fireworks have been popping for weeks after Gov. Haley Barbour, faced with the state’s shortfalls, announced proposals to trim budgets across state government.

The governor is allowed to uniformly cut department budgets by five percent, but he is seeking authority to cut some budgets by as much as 10 percent and leave others untouched.

Revenue estimates projected a shortfall of $372 million during the current fiscal year, but collections may fall below that amount, Barbour wrote legislators shortly before New Year’s.

Barbour has strong political allies in the Republican-leaning Senate, which often leads to feuds with the Democrat-controlled House.   

Legislators’ first order of business Tuesday was more positive: they passed an incentive package that helps bring a German-based pipe-making plant to Tunica County.

The recruitment of the company, Schulz GMBH, amounted to a major economic development deal for Mississippi, since the company expects its workforce to climb to 500 employees over five years.  

Legislators authorized a $15 million loan for the company and $20 million of the company’s debt for equipment purchase, according to The Clarion-Ledger.

The company expects to invest $300 million when it builds a facility on a 100-acre site.

Panola County is represented in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Warner McBride and Rep. Joe Gardner, both of Batesville, and Rep. Clara Burnett of Tunica. All are Democrats.

Republican state Sen. Nolan Mettetal of Sardis represents Panola County in the state Senate. He chairs the Public Utilities Committee in the Senate.

To reach a state representative or Sen. Mettetal at the Capitol, call (601) 359-3770.

McBride is Panola County’s senior state representative in the House, where he chairs the House Transportation Committee. He was first elected in 1992.

Gardner is vice-chair of the House Agricultural Committee. The District 11 seat he occupies was formerly held by late Rep. Leonard Morris of Batesville.

Burnett is vice chair of the House Gaming Committee. Her District 9 seat covers parts of five Delta counties, including a small portion of Panola.