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Lawmakers, Barbour put in long hours

The Mississippi Legislature’s off-season will be shorter than usual this year.

After the regular session ended in April, it took a special session that lasted nearly all of summer to resolve the Medicaid funding quagmire. When the state finally paid its $90-million obligation to the healthcare program for the poor and disabled, it was an accounting error that picked up the tab, not a solution agreed upon by lawmakers.

Gov. Haley Barbour and the Senate promoted a plan that would have increased fees paid by hospitals and other providers to fund Medicaid. The House and its leadership rejected that plan and proposed an increase in the state’s cigarette tax to foot the bill.

There most likely will not be an accounting error to save the day this time around. In his proposed budget for fiscal year 2010, which starts July 1, Barbour again has proposed that providers pay the full cost of Medicaid. The Mississippi Hospital association opposes it. MHA president and CEO Sam Cameron says hospitals are willing to pay half the bill, but the other half should come from somewhere else, like cigarette taxes.

Barbour’s budget calls for a 24-cent increase in cigarette taxes, up from 18 cents to 42 cents. Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, has already prefiled a bill to raise it to $1.

The current budget has already been cut once. The FY2010 budget will be even tighter. After an eventful 2008, lawmakers are already bracing for a financially chaotic 2009.

The games begin Jan. 6.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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