The Mississippi House of Representatives approved a plan yesterday to restore recent state budget cuts, but the proposal is unlikely to gain much traction in the state Senate or the governor's office. The House voted 73 to 47 yesterday to take $100 million from state reserve funds to shore up agency budgets slashed in Gov. Haley Barbour's most recent round of budget cuts, announced Jan. 22. The measure attracted fierce opposition from House Republicans, however, and House Democrats acknowledged that the plan stood little chance of passing the Senate.
What we're anticipating is that they're probably going to do nothing with it, other than maybe take it to committee," Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, told the Jackson Free Press today. "They're not ready to compromise with us on this one, at all. They don't seem to be."
The House measure, a revision of Senate Bill 2495, would draw $50 million each from the state's rainy-day fund and its health-care trust fund, endowed by the state's 1994 tobacco settlement, using the funds to offset some of the $216 million cut from the current fiscal year budget. Nearly half the money would go to K-12 education and the state's university system, while the rest would be spread among agencies that House leaders identified as the most likely to suffer under existing cuts. Those agencies include the Departments of Revenue, Health and Mental Health, the Mississippi Highway Patrol, and local district attorney's offices.
Rep. Phil Gunn, R-Clinton offered an amendment that would have would have left the rainy-day fund untouched while still taking $50 million from the health-care trust fund. Gunn suggested that his amendment would be more palatable to Barbour, and the more conservative Senate leadership.
"I don't disagree with the passion for education," said during floor debate yesterday. "But where are we going to get the money for it?"
Gunn's colleague Mark Baker, R-Brandon, was more direct. "You know and I know that this bill will not become law the way it is," Baker told House members. "It's not going to pass."
House members blocked Gunn's amendment, and Barbour issued a statement later in the day praising the Republican proposal and objecting to any further use of the $230 million rainy-day fund for this fiscal year.
"The approach by House Republicans ensures that we keep enough money in our rainy-day fund to manage larger revenue shortfalls in the next few years," Barbour said. "Draining the rainy-day fund too soon will put Mississippi in a worse position as this recession slices deeper into our budget."
The House bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, also a Republican, can choose to refer the bill to committee, or-because a different version of the bill already passed the Senate-he can refer the bill to the full Senate, which would vote to concur or invite conference on the bill.
During a Jan. 25 House Appropriations Committee meeting, Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, argued that current cuts, if allowed to stand, would cripple many state agencies. The Mississippi Tax Commission would likely lay off 200 employees, forcing a delay in the processing of income tax returns. The state Highway Patrol would also be forced to furlough troopers or reduce their hours, Flaggs warned.