Barbour: State can function without budget

June 21, 2009

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Gov. Haley Barbour said state government could operate and spend money without the Legislature approving a budget when the fiscal year ends in nine days.  

 

"I don''t anticipate critical services of state government shutting down if the Legislature fails and doesn''t pass a budget," he said. "There''re some things that can be done by executive order." 

 

However, the Republican governor expressed confidence he, the House and Senate will end their deadlock and agree on how to fund state government before the new fiscal year begins July 1.  

 

"If it isn''t, it''ll be as soon thereafter as there can be an agreement," he said Friday.  

 

However, House Speaker Billy McCoy said Barbour is overstepping his powers as governor and standing in the way of an agreement. He''s imposing too many demands on how the Legislature should pass the budget and "avert a state shutdown," he said.  

 

"Governor Barbour is seeking to be a dictator," said the Legislature''s top-ranking Democrat. 

 

"Under the constitution, we''re not to be held hostage by a governor ... (who) says you will agree with me or nothing," McCoy said. "Not this governor or any governor has the right to find a way to be a dictator in this state, so far as the fiscal affairs or any other affairs are concerned." 

 

Barbour said he''s determined to make sure the Legislature passes a budget that''s "honestly balanced," saves money and doesn''t make Mississippi''s financial crisis even worse in the future. 

 

"I''m going to do everything I can do to make sure the next governor doesn''t have to suffer through that," he said. 

 

McCoy said the House of Representatives has tried to compromise with the governor and Senate to no avail and is now "at the end of its rope." 

 

"The House has balanced its budget, made necessary cuts and still provide services," he said. 

 

Barbour said he wouldn''t be surprised if court challenges came against any steps he''d take to keep government operating into the next budget year without the passage of legislative appropriations. He noted he''s studied what other states do when budgets aren''t enacted before a fiscal year begins. 

 

"We would be literally in uncharted waters for Mississippi, and what is legal in Michigan or what''s legal in Minnesota or what''s legal in Montana -- their constitutions are very different from ours," Barbour said. 

 

He wouldn''t give details Friday on what could be done if state government is left without a budget July 1.  

 

"I don''t think it''s advantageous to say we might could do this or we might could do that. The best thing to do is let''s get a budget," he said. 

 

Barbour said he''ll call the Legislature back into session when House leaders give into his demands. 

 

"Until there is an agreement between the House and the Senate -- with which the governor concurs -- there''s no purpose in calling a special session," he said. 

 

The main sticking point to getting the state''s $18 billion budget enacted is a hospital tax to help fund Medicaid. Barbour and the Republican-controlled Senate want to phase in the tax to eventually be $90 million in three years. The Democratic-led House will support a $57 million tax with assurances hospitals'' Medicaid payments won''t be cut. 

 

There have also been disputes about whether to set aside $60 million for another year, when the state''s budget woes are expected to be worse. 

 

Barbour announced Friday the state Medicaid program has already run out of money and that payments to doctors and hospitals will be delayed. While the health-care program for the poor needs about $34 million to meet its financial obligations this fiscal year, Barbour said the 560,000 Medicaid recipients will continue to receive health care in the coming days. 

 

Anxiety reigns throughout state government as the Legislature and governor wrangle over the budget. The Mississippi Transportation Commission is making plans to terminate road-construction contracts if no budget is passed by July. School districts are not issuing contracts to hire or retain teachers until state funds are approved. State government employees are left wondering if they''ll be furloughed. 

 

Acknowledging people''s concerns, Barbour urged them to pressure legislators to make a deal. 

 

"Those people should call the legislators -- particularly the leadership -- and say we need to get this finished."