Miss. lawmakers plowing ahead on $5 billion budget

Published 11:41 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In its first draft of state budget bills, the Mississippi House proposes putting millions of extra dollars into Medicaid, education, mental health and public safety.

In a year when the economy is struggling and money is tight, some of the pumped-up proposals are likely to shrink by the time the House and Senate agree on the final $5 billion budget.

The state’s fiscal year begins July 1, and most agencies are likely to see little growth in their spending. Teachers and state employees are not in line to receive pay raises.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Legislators say the money from the federal stimulus plan could help keep state government afloat, but they’re waiting for details from Washington about how much federal money will go into specific state programs.

“We’ve got a good budget and we still have the stimulus package to look to,” House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said Tuesday.

The House passed budget bills to cover all parts of state government, from big-ticket items such as education and health care to smaller ones such as the Grand Gulf Military Monument Commission and the state Auctioneers Commission.

The Senate has until Feb. 25 to pass its own proposals for funding each state agency, then the two chambers will exchange the bills for more debate.

March 27 is the final deadline for the House and Senate to agree on a single budget plan.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has said because he expects the economy to be in bad shape for several years, he wants legislators to use no more than one-fourth of the rainy day fund for the upcoming budget year. The fund, which provides a financial cushion for the state, has a balance of more than $360 million.

The House proposes increasing a scholarship program for college freshmen and sophomores, making students eligible to receive $1,000 a year, up from the current $500.

In an effort to reduce insurance costs on the Gulf Coat, the House also voted Tuesday to put $20 million into the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association, also known as the wind pool.

The wind pool is the insurer of last resort for those who need wind coverage in high-risk areas where no private insurer will write policies. The money will help reduce rates by 10 to 20 percent, lawmakers said.