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Top Mississippi lawmakers reach $5.5B budget deal

 

The Associated Press

 

JACKSON -- Top Mississippi lawmakers said Friday they''ve reached a $5.5 billion budget deal for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and most state programs will take cuts because money is tight. 

 

"While it is not an ideal budget, it does fund government at the basic level," said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate. 

 

The announcement of an agreement came after business hours, and just four days before the full House and Senate return to the Capitol to consider the spending plan. Negotiators had been meeting behind closed doors most of this week. 

 

"It''s not a budget that I''m proud of, but I''m very proud that we have a budget," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo. "Just like families have been making cuts in their personal budgets in a down economy, the budget leaders in the Legislature have had to make some cuts." 

 

Legislators were in session from early January until late March, but took a break about three weeks ago because they were hoping Congress would approve $187 million in additional federal stimulus money for Mississippi. Budget writers wanted to include the cash in the state spending plan. 

 

The stimulus money is still on hold, and it''s unclear when Congress might vote. House and Senate negotiators said the $187 million is not part of the state budget, but there''s a contingency plan to use $110 million if the money arrives later. The remaining $77 million would be set aside, with plans to carry it over into the following budget year. 

 

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday that having a second, contingent budget for the federal stimulus money would be a "terrible management practice" because it would give agency directors false hope about how much money they''d receive. 

 

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said Friday that Barbour had agreed to the contingency plan. Barbour''s spokesman, Dan Turner, was not immediately available for comment. 

 

Flaggs said House and Senate negotiators granted some of the governor''s funding requests for Medicaid, corrections and payment of long-term debt. 

 

"Education will do all right when you look at both budgets combined," he added. 

 

Nancy Loome is executive director of The Parents Campaign, which pushes lawmakers to fund elementary and secondary schools. In an e-mail sent to thousands of people earlier this week, Loome wrote: "We understand that times are hard. We also understand that failing to educate our children adequately will have dire consequences for our kids and our state that will outlast this recession by decades." 

 

Barbour has had to make five rounds of spending cuts since last July because of lethargic tax collections. He has trimmed about 9 percent from what started as about a $6 billion budget.

 

 

 

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