Mississippi lawmakers pass $5.5 billion budget

Published 2:06 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mississippi lawmakers on Monday easily passed dozens of bills that make up the state’s $5.5 billion budget for the year that begins July 1.

The bills cover everything from public schools to mental health to prisons. Money is tight because the pace of economic recovery is uncertain. Many programs — including elementary and secondary education — will receive roughly the same amount of money as this year.

The budget has no pay raises for state employees. It does not increase or decrease taxes.

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There was little discussion about details of the budget in either chamber Monday because most of the tough decisions were made last week by a small group of negotiators.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said that with state and federal money combined, “Medicaid is in good shape.” About one in every four Mississippians is covered by the government health insurance program for the needy, aged, blind and disabled.

“We don’t have to worry about services being cut?”  asked Rep. Frances Fredericks, D-Gulfport.

Holland responded: “No, unless they want to cut them on their own.”

One budget bill includes provisions to name the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Rankin County for Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, the Mississippi Department of Transportation headquarters in downtown Jackson for Democratic House Speaker Billy McCoy and a Highway Patrol regional office in Meridian for the late Democratic Rep. Charles Young.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he thinks it’s bad policy to name buildings for politicians who haven’t died or retired.

“I certainly have the highest regard for the speaker of the House, and I think it’s appropriate to name some building some day for Gov. Barbour,“ Bryan said. ”But I question the wisdom of naming buildings for two people who are still so active in the political process.”

The House passed a bill several weeks ago to name the buildings for Barbour, McCoy and Young, but that bill died in the Senate. It was revived during budget negotiations at the insistence of some House leaders, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando.

Barbour is term-limited and can’t seek re-election this year, although he’s been preparing for a possible 2012 presidential run.

McCoy, of Rienzi, hasn’t said whether he’s running again for the House or for the chamber’s leadership post. He was first elected to the House in 1979 and was instrumental in passing a 1987 program to improve highways across the state. He is finishing his second four-year term as speaker.

Young, a businessman from Meridian, was first elected to the House in 1979 and died in April 2009, while he was still serving.

All budget bills go to Barbour, who said last week that he had agreed to negotiators’ plans for how to spend state money in the coming year. Barbour has not commented on the bill that would name a building in his honor.