Budget moves ahead

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 30, 2012

JACKSON (AP) — A bond package that would have provided funding for repairs and new construction across Mississippi died when a Saturday deadline passed, though the legislature continued making strides Sunday to finish the budget process.

Republican Lt. Gov Tate Reeves held his line this weekend, demanding a smaller bond package than the $250 million proposal by House leaders. Reeves told reporters he was trying to keep a promise to voters to keep down the state’s debt.

“In these tough economic times, it is not right to burden the taxpayers with significantly more debt,” Reeves said. “Not only is it not right, it’s not fiscally prudent when we’re trying to get our balance sheet and our income statement under control.”

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House Ways and Means Chair Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said Gov. Phil Bryant was “tickled to death” by the proposed bond package, and that many of the items are essential to the state.

“It was just two different positions,” Smith said. “This is the biggest disappointment I’ve had all year.”

Smith said he hopes that a special session will be called to re-negotiate the bond package. Senate Finance Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said a special session may be possible after more conversation, but at the moment the House and Senate visions for the bond packages are too far apart to reconcile.

By adjournment on Sunday, key budget bills such as Medicaid and the Institutions of Higher Learning appropriations had passed both the House and Senate.

The Medicaid budget was a disappointment to the division’s Executive Director David Dzielak.

He said the appropriations figure is artificially inflated by funding that was re-routed from other departments through Medicaid, even though those dollars cannot be used to fund the program.

The legislative deadline to approve all appropriations and revenue bills in the $5.6 billion budget is Monday. The session ends May 6.