Money, Medicaid and ... Money | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Money, Medicaid and ... Money


House Speaker Billy McCoy urged Gov. Haley Barbour Monday to accept funds from the federal stimulus package.

The House and Senate addressed funding for state agencies last week, passing a number of revenue bills tapping into the state's projected $19 billion bank account. One of them was House Bill 1677, which funds the state's K-12 education program with $2.5 billion. That amount includes $2.2 billion dedicated to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which distributes money to the state's 152 public school districts according to financial need and local tax revenue. The bill also allocates money for a pre-kindergarten pilot program for some districts as well as dyslexia programs.

What Stimulus?
The House has not proposed any appropriation bills containing stimulus money from President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package, although members criticized Gov. Haley Barbour's unwillingness to accept the money.

House Speaker Billy McCoy called a Feb. 23 press conference urging Barbour to reconsider accepting the estimated $2.6 billion in stimulus money. Barbour is one of six governors—all Republican—who are leery of the money. McCoy said Barbour is putting political ideology ahead of the state's welfare.

"We have people in our community, friends, neighbors and relatives, who complain that the system has failed them, and we're concerned at the governor's unwillingness, particularly as related to unemployment," McCoy said.

Barbour was out of town and did not return calls, but he has repeatedly said that he is opposed to the federal stimulus requirement that the state extend its unemployment benefits to part-time workers and increase the number of weeks a person can receive unemployment compensation.

Funding Medicaid
The House also passed HB 1682, which—together with federal matching that pays $3 for every $1 the state invests in the program—will fund Medicaid with $4.3 billion. (HB 1682 invests $481.4 million of state funds in the $4.3 billion Medicaid program).

The Medicaid appropriation bill contains language eliminating the face-to-face re-certification process.

Many House members claim the majority of people kicked off the program for missing re-certification interviews re-qualify for the program at a later date.

The House attempted to address the $90 million Medicaid shortfall by allowing a hospital bed tax—which hospital patients would likely pay—to fund roughly half of the shortfall.

The House opposes the Senate's proposal to fill the entirety of the shortfall through a tax on patients, advocating instead for an increase in the state's 18-cent tax on cigarettes, or through a combination of a cigarette-tax increase and a smaller hospital bed tax.

The Republican-majority Senate will likely pursue filling the entirety of the shortfall through a bed tax, since many senators—led by former tobacco lobbyist Barbour—prefer money from a tobacco tax increase to go to the general fund rather than Medicaid.

The House also approved HB 1683, which funds the revamped State Department of Health with $385 million.

Jackson Revenue
The Senate killed a bill last week that would have allowed Jackson residents to vote on raising their taxes to pay for police and infrastructure, although a newer version of that bill passed the Senate Finance Committee and survived the Senate with a 30-to-18 vote. Senate Bill 3268, authored by Jackson Sen. John Horhn (who is also running for mayor), would allow residents to vote on adding a 1 percent sales tax on all items except groceries, prescription drugs, large equipment purchases, restaurants and hotel rooms. The new revenue could generate an extra $21 million for the city, with 70 percent of that going to roads and 30 percent to hiring and retaining police.

The Senate killed another bill allowing cities to increase property taxes to finance parks and recreation. Supporters say parks are deteriorating all over the state, but a majority of the Senate claimed homeowners are paying too much tax already, and snuffed the bill.

In a fit of generosity, the Senate passed SB 3197, which gives a $2,000 per employee tax credit over a 10-year period for employers who make upholstered household furniture. The bill targets the failing North Mississippi furniture industry that is crumbling under the weight of a flood of imported furniture, and joins the House in pushing legislation to address the problem.

The Senate also passed SB 3233, which increases funding to the Mississippi Tax Commission and upgrades the Commission's outdated computer system. The same bill calls for an extra $25 million for the Ad Valorem Tag Reduction Fund, designed to keep car tag prices from climbing. Senate members believe the government will recoup the costs from a cigarette-tax increase.

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