State's $2.8B has tight strings attached

April 17, 2009

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JACKSON - The $2.8 billion Mississippi is getting in federal stimulus funds comes with strict public accounting and transparency mandates. 

 


"Congress has huge expectations on how this money is to be managed and how it''s to be spent," said state Auditor Stacey Pickering. 

 


He said Mississippi will be under special federal scrutiny on how it uses American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. 

 


"So when you''re getting ready to contract or cover funds, you''ve got to make sure you''ve got a rationale of how these funds meet the intended guidelines of ARRA - retaining jobs, creating new jobs," Pickering said. 

 


State and federal officials will also be working to ensure money doesn''t get stolen or corruptly spent, said state Attorney General Jim Hood. 

 


"There''s going to be a tremendous effort ... to make sure this money gets where it''s supposed to be," Hood said. 

 


Hood and Pickering were among the state agency heads speaking Thursday at a meeting sponsored by Gov. Haley Barbour to discuss the funds coming from the federal government to help people and governments cope with the economic recession and pull out of it. 

 


Hood noted his office has an opinions section to answer legal questions and a public integrity section to prosecute corrupt government officials. 

 


"I''d rather use the arm of our opinions section than our public integrity section," Hood said. 

 


Since President Obama approved ARRA in February, state and local government officials have had a hard time digesting "this huge new law in a short period of time, said Barbour, who spoke in a videotaped address to the conference. 

 


"The regulations are massive. They change daily," said Paul Hurst, the governor''s chief of staff, who moderated the conference for Barbour, who was in South Carolina at a meeting of Republican governors. 

 


The Mississippi Legislature delayed adoption of the state�s $19 billion budget until May or another time set by legislative leaders when they know how the $2.8 billion in Mississippi�s ARRA share impacts state spending. 

 


�This is an extremely complicated process,� said Eric Clark, executive director of the state Board for Community and Junior Colleges. 

 


Mississippi�s economic stimulus funds can go to a wide array of programs for state and local governments � such as $1.7 million to reduce diesel school bus emissions and about $700 million for Medicaid � and be available through 2010. 

 


Barbour expressed hopes the federal government will soon �have provided enough specific guidance so final plans can be made to maximize the use of these one-time funds.� 

 


The governor�s office has set up a Web site dedicated to providing information about Mississippi�s ARRA share: stimulus.ms.gov.