Legislators staring down budget fight

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 4, 2003

Two days from beginning a new regular session, local legislators are hoping that the state budget won’t hurt the Natchez-Adams County area.

That comes as local leaders prepare their own wish lists for the new session.

The state’s Constitution ensures a balanced budget &045; but it doesn’t prescribe exactly how to do it. Certain items, such as a promised pay raise to teachers and state employees, can’t be cut.

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Mississippi isn’t the only state fearing a budget crunch this year. With the economy in a holding pattern, most legislatures are feeling the pinch.

So where does the money come from?

The wish lists and proposals this time around have a different tone.

Communities have the same desires for big projects &045; like Natchez’s recreation complex or Forks of the Road site &045; but Natchez officials, at least, are seeking a sales tax referendum to help pay for them, rather than a bond issue or other help from the state. The money just isn’t there.

And legislators say they are just hoping they can maintain funding for such things as higher education and social services, two areas that don’t need to be cut.

Logically, legislators have two options: raise taxes or make cuts in the budget. Both take a sort of political courage for lawmakers looking to get re-elected later in the year.

Natchez Rep. Andrew Ketchings pegged it right: Lawmakers have &uot;some difficult decisions to make.&uot;

These are the times that call for leaders to step forward and make those decisions, even when they fear they might be unpopular.

We hope this legislative session ends with the right decisions, not the decisions that are right politically.