February 20, 2014 10:03:34 AM
JACKSON -- Democrats say they'll keep trying to give all Mississippi government employees at least a $1,000 pay raise in the coming year, even after several attempts were blocked Wednesday in the Republican-majority House.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said Democrats were playing "raw politics" by forcing several roll-call votes that required members to say yes or no to raises for various agencies.
Frierson said the state can't afford the $39 million plan proposed by Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose.
Under the recommended budget for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1, teachers are in line to receive a raise, but employees of most agencies are not. Frierson said top budget writers talked about including a raise for most workers.
"We wanted to do it. And we ran out of money," Frierson told the House.
Stringer said many state employees haven't had a raise in seven years. He was Appropriations Committee chairman from early 2004 to early 2012, when Democrats held the House majority.
Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, pointed out that state workers' pay remained flat most of the years Stringer was the lead budget writer. That elicited a long "Whoa...." from some House members, and Speaker Philip Gunn gaveled for them to be quiet.
"We didn't have revenue back then," Stringer said. "But the economy has picked up."
Lawmakers are entering the final weeks of writing a $6 billion budget for fiscal 2015. This week, the House and Senate are considering early versions of more than 100 budget bills to fund everything from schools to prisons. The two chambers will exchange bills for more work, and there's a late March deadline for negotiators to agree on final details.
Several more budget bills await House consideration in the next few days, and Stringer said he'll try again to add state employee pay raises to those.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jim Hood said Wednesday that lawsuit settlements are pumping an extra $64 million into the state budget.
Hood, a Democrat, is sending nearly $53 million to the general fund, which is the largest part of the budget, and $11 million to the state employees' health insurance plan.
The state sued GlaxoSmithKline over claims the company made about the diabetes drug, Avandia. That settlement is bringing $25.2 million.
The state is collecting $22.5 million in a price-fixing case against BASF, a German company that makes vitamins.
Hood said he's asking lawmakers to spend some money for counseling and other programs to help departing prisoners re-enter the free world. He's also asking lawmakers to spend some to expand drug courts, which focus on treating addicts rather than putting them in prison.
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