Mims worries state funds may stay gloomy

Published 12:29 am Friday, September 18, 2009

NATCHEZ — Despite the ever-present smile on Rep. Sam Mims’ face, he’s worried about money — your money.

Mims, the 37-year-old Republican representing House District 97, which includes portions of Adams County, told members of the Rotary Club of Natchez Wednesday the effects of the recession are being felt now, but may get worse in coming months.

“I’m optimistic that the economy will turn around,” Mims said. “But no one knows when.”

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This year marked a first in Mississippi history, Mims said, as the Legislature adjourned its regularly session in April without having a finalized budget.

Massive shortfalls in revenue caused lawmakers to reconvene in special session this summer to determine how the $2.3 billion in federal stimulus money Mississippi was to receive could help balance the budget.

Despite the stimulus money that will help out the state’s revenue shortfalls this year and next, the governor had to cut spending further, announcing $171.9 million in cuts earlier this month.

Mims said the worst might not be over.

“Our revenues are still declining,” he said, adding that tax increases were not the answer.

Despite the Legislature’s decision to raise cigarette taxes, Mims said tax increases — even on items like cigarettes that may not be used by the majority of Mississippians — is not the answer.

“Many of you may not care that the cigarette tax was raised,” he said. “My concern is that they’ve opened the door. Eventually, the Legislature will find something to tax that affects you.

“I always tell people when we’re at home and not in session, you’re money is safe,” he said, eliciting a laugh from the Rotary crowd.

Mississippi was slower than other states to see the effects of the nationwide recession and thus Mississippi may be among the last states to fully bounce back, too, Mims said.

Stimulus dollars will help offset some of the losses in the current budget year and extend into the next budget year.

“What happens in 2011?” Mims asked. “That should all give us some pause.

“We could easily go back to Jackson in 2011 with several hundred million dollars in deficit with no stimulus money. There’s so much unknown, we’re in uncharted waters.”

Mims said state government needs to reform its spending habits and reassess the role of state government, including cutting programs if necessary. He said Legislators should be “very cautious” in the next year or two.

“We’re taxed enough,” he said. “When I go to Jackson, I realize whose money I’m spending. It’s not Monopoly money; it’s not play money; it’s your money.”