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Mississippi not alone in budget impasse

 

 

Mississippi is not the only state that has a legislature struggling with its governor to pass a budget so close before the deadline to act in two weeks. 

 

As the next fiscal year starts July 1, the nation''s economic recession and state revenue shortages have created financial and political havoc in state capitols around the country. 

 

"Deliberations have been particularly difficult this year," said Todd Haggerty of the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

 

It varies what''s happening in their legislatures, but about 15 states are still working on their budgets. 

 

Republican legislators allied with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour forced the Legislature to end its regular session June 3, when the House and Senate couldn''t reach a budget accord after weeks of fruitless negotiations. 

 

Barbour plans to order lawmakers back into a special session before the month ends to appropriate the money needed to ensure state government can operate and provide services. 

 

All appropriation bills - totaling about $18 billion -- were supposed to have been passed in late March. 

 

The Democratic-controlled House and GOP-led Senate along with Barbour have squabbled over what to do with federal stimulus funds, how much to tax hospitals to help Medicaid, how much to give schools and how much to save for another budget year. 

 

"We''re not the only state dealing with this," Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, president of the Senate, said of the budget quandary. 

 

He cited as worst-case examples Illinois, where its governor is urging lawmakers to redo a makeshift budget they''ve already passed without enough money, and California, which faces a $24 billion deficit and literally running out of cash to pay day-to-day bills. 

 

"I''m just not going to let the state of Mississippi get in that position. I''m going to stand by our governor on these important issues," Bryant said. 

 

The House of Representatives disagree with Barbour and the Bryant-led Senate over how much money to spend now and save later for state government. The Republicans'' more conservative budget would shelve away $60 million for another year. 

 

Democrats say skimping this money would cause state agencies to lay off employees and cut services. 

 

"It''s allowing our citizens'' health to deteriorate, our infrastructure to dilapidate and our educational systems to stagnate," said House Speaker Billy McCoy. "We can have all the money in the world in rainy day funds, yet we''d be bankrupt because our citizens would be poorer for needed programs, services and facilities." 

 

 

 

Other states in ''limbo,'' ''tug-of-war'' 

 

News reports from states around the country last week had a variety of descriptions for their legislatures'' ongoing budget struggles. 

 

Oregon senators were in "a state of limbo and confusion" when a tax increase unexpectedly failed to pass. The Michigan House and Senate were "miles apart on settling the state''s budget." Louisiana legislators were in a "Capitol tug-of-war" over pork-project spending and tax breaks. 

 

In Illinois, the Democratic governor wants the Legislature to reconvene and pass an alternative budget with tax increases to replace a flawed spending plan lawmakers adopted before adjourning June 1. 

 

In Indiana, lawmakers returned Thursday to start a special session because they were unable to pass a state budget during the regular session. Lawmakers in Kentucky convene Monday for a special budget session. 

 

The Texas Legislature adjourned June 1 in disarray without approving funds needed to keep the state''s transportation and insurance agencies running. 

 

Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Ohio are also among the states with legislatures still in session as the new fiscal year approaches. 

 

California is the worst case as it rapidly runs out of money. Democrats have said they will not accept Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger''s budget-cutting measures. They''ve proposed using much of the state''s budget reserve for next year. 

 

In New York, budget issues are being overshadowed by a political circus. A Senate coup took place Monday when the Republican minority lured two Democratic defectors across the aisle to give the GOP a voting majority. Democrats went to court to block the takeover. 

 

 

 

Barbour wants deal before session 

 

Barbour wants a pre-session budget deal struck before he brings Mississippi''s Legislature back for the special session. House-Senate negotiators resume discussions Monday at the state Capitol. 

 

Unlike normal legislative assemblies, the Mississippi governor decides what bills lawmakers can bring up in special sessions. 

 

Barbour said he''ll wait for the agreement to be negotiated and then shape the legislation in a way that should ensure quick passage through the House and Senate. 

 

"I''ll call the special session when the need arises, and we ought to be able to get in and out of here in a day or two," Barbour said. 

 

Senate Republicans see Barbour as an integral part of the negotiations to ensure the budget''s final passage. 

 

"It''s hard to vote on something and say the governor is probably going to resist this and veto it," Bryant said. "Hopefully, we''ll be able to ... say this is the House and Senate position and the governor is comfortable with where we''re at -- and it should speed the process." 

 

However, McCoy said Barbour is interfering too much and throwing roadblocks into the legislative bargaining. 

 

"This is not how the process is supposed to work. Our constitution says that the House and Senate will get together in a give-and-take atmosphere and send a balanced budget to the governor, who can approve or veto it," McCoy said. 

 

This is the second time the Legislature has encountered such a major impasse since Barbour became governor in 2004. In 2005, a deadlocked Legislature gave up passing a state budget, compelling him to call lawmakers back for a special session in late May. This was the first time in modern Mississippi history the state Legislature ended a session without a budget to keep government operating. 

 

During that 10-day special session, Barbour tried to exert more control by gradually doling out bills the Legislature could consider. He presented them in a way that pressured legislators to first do bills he wanted that were not related to the budget, and then he attempted to impose more restrictions than the governor normally has over how much money can be appropriated.

 

 

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