View Full Version : Article: Mississippi lawmakers kick off three-month session on Tuesday

01-04-2005, 08:10 AM
Posted on Mon, Jan. 03, 2005

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - New year. New attitude.

With the 2005 session starting at noon Tuesday, many Mississippi legislators say they've tried to erase the rancor of a November special session - an 11-day meeting many say could have been resolved in 11 hours if not for political squabbling.

"That's just the process. We're all friends now," Rep. Walter Robinson, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Monday.

It won't be long before new battles begin over how to pay for Medicaid, public schools and other state responsibilities. Lawmakers will have a full agenda for their three-month regular session, with a ballooning state budget dominating all other issues.

Nearly $350 million is needed to patch holes in the current year's budget. And, agencies are requesting nearly $1 billion more than the $3.8 billion available for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Some lawmakers are pushing for tax increases on items such as cigarettes. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour says he opposes any new taxes. He wants most agencies to cut 5 percent from their budgets, and he's asking legislators to give the executive branch more control over state agencies - a move that would let agency directors eliminate jobs or find other ways to cut costs.

Legislators gave the Mississippi Department of Corrections more flexibility over its own budget during the 2004 session, and Barbour said MDOC's spending dropped from $290 million in the fiscal year that ended last June 30 to $275 million in the current budget year.

Rep. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said legislators generally are reluctant to give up control of state agencies, but the example of MDOC might persuade many that doing so is a good idea. Facing public pressure over the budget, legislators might be willing to let Barbour "be the bad guy" in cutting jobs or services, Fillingane said.

"I like him. I support him," Fillingane said of the governor. "He is willing to take the (political) hit because in his world view it's better to go ahead and do the dirty deal up front and realize the benefits later."

Barbour, entering his second year as the state's chief executive, said legislators will face more complex issues during the regular session than they did during the November special session, when he called them back to the Capitol to consider issuing bonds for economic development and other projects.

"I recognize when issues are hard, choices are tough, then there's a high likelihood for contention. There's certainty that people will disagree," Barbour told The Associated Press in an interview. "But through the legislative process, we'll work out the best budget that we can."

Legislators will face public scrutiny from day one. Three hours before the session starts, groups of parents and community leaders are starting relays in Oxford and Ocean Springs to carry petitions to Jackson. The petitions, already signed by thousands, call for full funding of public schools. They'll be carried through several cities in north and south Mississippi before organizers deliver the papers to lawmakers next week at the Capitol.

Sen. Gloria Williamson, D-Philadelphia, said while she and many of her colleagues are returning to the Capitol still filled with holiday good will, it might not take long for the mood to get testy.

"If they start trying to cut public schools again, ain't no telling who I'm going to get mad at," Williamson said Monday.

Sen. Charlie Ross, R-Brandon, said important education changes can be made without large outlays of cash. He said he hopes legislators will pass some of Barbour's ideas, such as requiring every middle school to have a teacher who doubles as a mentor.

"If you look at the data, throwing money at education is not always the answer," Ross said. "You need to do things differently."

01-04-2005, 09:04 AM
O Great. I can't wait to see just how much money they throw away on themselves this session. For the poorest state in the nation, our Reps can sure blow the cash.

01-06-2005, 10:51 AM
Amen to that, Danielle! They can't seem to find money to support bringing in new jobs, medicare/medicaid, and other worthwhile causes, but they ALWAYS manage to find some to vote themselves a raise don't they?????

01-06-2005, 11:12 AM
Preach on! :D

If it's not a raise for themselves, then it's an incredible retiement package.

The Governor swears there'll be no tax increase. Where's the money going to come from? More casinos? :)

01-06-2005, 12:06 PM
Yeah, right! No tax increase, my butt! How many times have we heard that???? As my property tax and car tag steadily increase to unaffordable!!!

Maybe I should run for office - If nothing else, I'll at least get good pay for a PART-TIME job and the best retirement package in the state!!!

01-06-2005, 12:19 PM
Cool! I wanna run too!!! :D :D :D

P. S. My mom works for the state as a nurse at a state mental health facility. She's sweating bullets right now, worried about job security.