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State’s budget for 2010 adopted

JACKSON — The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JBCL) adopted the spending recommendations for fiscal year 2010’s budget this afternoon.

Just under $5 billion was allocated for the fiscal year that begins next July 1. Not included in that figure is roughly $101 million, which represents 2 percent of available funds that is set aside by law to offset any variances between projected and actual revenue collections.

So, the 2009 version of the Mississippi Legislature will have a little less then $5 billion to hand out to the state’s agencies when the session convenes Jan. 6.

Along with full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, that number represents about the only budget certainty.

Perhaps the two most contentious issues when lawmakers begin crafting a budget to send to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk will be the funding of Medicaid and how big an increase the state’s cigarette tax will see. Barbour has proposed raising the state’s tax on a pack of cigarettes by 24 cents, to 42 cents.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, wants a larger tax and has pre-filed a bill to raise it to $1 per pack.

“When you start cutting essential services, we need to look at this in a real way. We need to put the best budget forward, and this is not the best budget,” Flaggs said. “I don’t want anybody to think that this is the last vote (on the cigarette tax) because I’m going to fight with every fiber of my body to see that we get at least (an 82 cent increase) if not a dollar on a pack of cigarettes. This is the worst budget I’ve ever voted on in my life.”

Compared with the revised FY2009 estimate, Medicaid in FY10 will be trimmed 0.9 percent, according to the recommendation adopted today.

“I only find two numbers that will hold weight for me, and one is the revenue estimate, and the other is the phone number,” Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said, referring to the strong possibility that the final FY10 budget will look nothing like the recommendation passed today. “The rest of the expense items are meaningless.”

Nunnelee and Flaggs agreed that the budgeting process needs to be revised to where the JLBC is able to pass revenue and expenditure recommendations that are not forgotten as soon as the regular session begins.

“We need to work toward having the ability to make recommendations as to revenue as well as expenditures because you can’t make an expenditure unless you’ve got some revenue, and we’re limited (by state law) there,” House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said.

In total, approximately 4,600 unfilled positions at state agencies will remain vacant.

“Some of these have been vacant for 60 or 90 days,” Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said, adding that the state’s mental health crisis centers – which were not funded in 2009 – represent around 1,500 of those jobs. “It may be 50 real jobs (that will be cut), may not be that much.”

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

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