June 23, 2009
JACKSON -- Gov. Haley Barbour scuttled a budget deal between legislative leaders and refused Monday to call the House and Senate back into session until Democrats agree to preserve his power to cut the state''s deficit-plagued Medicaid program.
"Obviously, there is no reason to call a special session when such enormous Medicaid issues remain unresolved," the Republican governor said in a statement issued by his office.
Barbour''s derailment of the legislative spending plan further heightens anxieties about state government on the brink of not having a budget for the fiscal year that starts in eight days.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led House on Sunday said they tentatively negotiated a budget compromise to fund state government for another year.
However, Barbour said it has "a huge, fundamental flaw: It would give Medicaid a blank check and expose Mississippi taxpayers to the risk of a severe, illegal budget deficit."
"I will fight the proposal with all my might," he said.
Legislative dealmakers had agreed to a $60 million hospital tax Barbour is pushing for to help fill a Medicaid funding gap, but they included a provision to prevent hospitals'' Medicaid reimbursements being cut if they paid this tax.
Barbour said such a measure would be "gutting" current state law that requires the governor to reduce Medicaid spending to balance its $4 billion-a-year budget if revenues fall short.
GOP Senate President Phil Bryant and Democratic House Speaker Billy McCoy had previously indicated a budget was ready for the Legislature to take up in a special session to be called by the governor.
"I started this day on a high note with great optimism that finally partisan politics would be set aside and the peoples'' business would be handled," McCoy said in a statement he issued Monday.
He didn''t say if he''ll agree to Barbour''s demands.
Bryant -- the state''s lieutenant governor -- said he''ll comply with the directive not to meddle with Barbour''s budget-balancing powers.
"I agree with Gov. Barbour that this authority should not be removed," he said in a statement issued Monday.
"I am hopeful we can continue our efforts to reach a funding agreement for Medicaid without such a dramatic change in executive authority."
However, McCoy said legislators have negotiated enough and should pass into law what House-Senate leaders have agreed to.
"We need to calm the fears of the hard-working, tax-paying citizens of the state of Mississippi along with our state agencies and their employees that we will have a budget and that it is being prepared," McCoy said in urging Barbour to immediately call the Legislature back into session.
A special session is needed because Republican lawmakers forced the Legislature to end its annual session June 3 without a state budget. The House and Senate were deadlocked in agreeing on the state''s $18 billion budget that was supposed to have been finalized in late March.
The adjournment strengthened the hands of the governor -- who by law calls the shots for what bills the Legislature takes up in special sessions.
Barbour said he will "do everything I can do to make sure" the Legislature gives him a budget that doesn''t overspend.
While Barbour has the upper hand in controlling what the Legislature does, his power play will hurt the public, said House Majority Leader Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville.
"I think it''s the citizens of the state who are between a rock and a hard place -- and he''s put them there," Ellis said.
"He''s under the illusion that the majority of the people are in line with his way of thinking, and I don''t think that''s the case."
Rep. Esther Harrison, D-Columbus, said Barbour should not exert so much control in shaping the budget before the Legislature has a chance to consider what negotiators have worked out.
"I think it should be left to the legislative body, and if he doesn''t agree, he can just go ahead and veto it," Harrison said.
Medicaid -- which began its fiscal year last July with about $4 billion in state and federal funds -- has a deficit of about $34 million as the year nears its end. Barbour said payments to doctors and hospitals will be delayed, but the services they provide to the 560,000 Medicaid recipients will continue.
If a budget is not passed before July 1, Barbour said he could use his executive power to keep state government''s vital services from shutting down.
House Education Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson -- one of the Legislature''s chief budget negotiators -- said plans are under way to get a judge to issue an order allowing government to operate if a budget isn''t produced in time.
frank commented at 6/26/2009 3:52:00 PM:
Cut out medicaid! shouldn't of had all those kids knowing you couldn't take care of them! hell i don't want to take care of them!
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