JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Democrats are renewing their demand for Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to call a special session so lawmakers can change parts of Mississippi's $6.3 billion spending plan before the new budget year begins July 1.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman David Baria of Bay St. Louis said Wednesday that the state Health Department will lose about $4 million, or 11 percent of its budget, in the coming year. He was among a dozen Democratic lawmakers who held a news conference outside the department's headquarters in Jackson.
Baria said Mississippi needs "a return to fiscal sanity." He said legislators could tap into the state's rainy day fund to shore up the Health Department.
"We can use that as just an immediate source of money," Baria said.
The head of the Senate Democratic Caucus, John Horhn of Jackson, said the department will lose 79 jobs for people who inspect facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.
"We've got nine hospitals and over 100 nursing homes that have to be recertified over the course of the next fiscal year," Horhn said. "If they don't get certified, they run the risk of losing millions of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements."
Democrats previously raised concerns about the Department of Mental Health budget.
Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday about a special session.
Republican budget writers have said they balanced a wide range of requests from state agencies as they set an overall spending plan.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Eugene "Buck" Clarke, R-Hollandale, said in a statement this month that the Mississippi budget "cannot be viewed through a singular lens."
"There are many agencies providing valuable services to the citizens of this state, many funded at a level below what we would like," Clarke said. "We also believe that each agency is sincere in their requests for funding as they and their advocates fight for their share of the pie. The truth of the matter is, though, that each agency and each advocate is not so concerned about funding levels at other agencies."
Rep. Kathy Sykes, D-Jackson, said cutting the Health Department budget hurts some of the state's neediest residents.
"We cannot afford to have our residents any sicker than they already are," Sykes said. "If you look at all the health studies — if it's a good study, we are at the bottom, if it's a bad one, we're at the top."