Legislature still at loggerheads over budget

May 21, 2009

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JACKSON -- House-Senate budget negotiators continue to haggle over how much to tax hospitals and reduce spending as they try to reach a deal for the state Legislature to approve next week. 

 


House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said he would accept a $60 million tax increase on hospitals -- as proposed by his Senate counterpart -- but it must be attached to a legislative mandate that Medicaid payments won''t be cut for health care providers. 

 


"I''m really against taxing hospitals, but we''re to that point just to get a budget together," Stringer said. 

 


He had another round of negotiations Wednesday with Senate Appropriations Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo. 

 


Nunnelee -- who previously proposed the $60 million tax as a compromise to the $90 million pushed by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour -- said he''ll make a counteroffer for consideration. 

 


The Democratic-dominated House and Republican-controlled Senate have been stalemated since March on funding state government for the next fiscal year. The state Legislature returns Tuesday with hopes to have the $19 billion budget ready for approval. The fiscal year begins July 1. 

 


Barbour has been urging the Legislature to pass a $90 million tax on hospitals to generate revenues to fill a Medicaid budget deficit in Mississippi''s $4 billion-a-year health care program for the poor. 

 


While House and Senate negotiators appear closer on an amount to tax hospitals, they''re hung up on the Senate''s plan to stash away money into a reserve fund to use for tougher economic times in 2011. 

 


Stringer has rejected Nunnelee''s proposal to hold off spending $60 million and force state government to eliminate hundreds of jobs effective in July based on an assumption financial times will be worse a year later. 

 


"Why lay all these people off? ... We don''t know what 2011 is going to be," Stringer said. 

 


Nunnelee said 2011 is going to be bad. 

 


"The Senate position is to plan and deal with it, and the House position is to smile and hope we get more manna from Heaven," he said.