JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers are working on another plan to plug some holes in the state budget after Gov. Haley Barbour followed through with his promise to strike down their original proposal.
Barbour vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have restored more than one-fifth of the $458.5 million in cuts he has made since the fiscal year started last July 1. State revenues have been anemic because of the struggling economy.
The Republican governor said too much of the proposed $79-million budget restoration would have gone to schools and not enough to other state services, including prisons.
He said the plan also relied on “one-time” money that would be available during the current budget year but not in the future.
“The bill avoided the inevitable: Restructuring state functions to continue a high level of service to Mississippians,” Barbour said in a statement. “We need a new approach to operating state government, not higher taxes to feed its bureaucratic appetite.”
The Senate on Thursday will get a chance to override the veto, but there may not be enough votes for a required two-thirds majority. The bill passed the Senate 26-22 last week; an override would take 34 votes.
Barbour is in his seventh year as governor, and lawmakers have not reversed any of his vetoes.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said three members of the House and three senators are working on a separate proposal to put some money back into the budget.
“These negotiators are willing to continue their pursuit for softening the drastic cuts to vital services for Mississippians, including education and mental health,” McCoy said Wednesday.
One of the negotiators, Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, said the state was recently notified that it is receiving an unexpected $36 million from the federal government for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the needy. Davis said the money does not have to be used directly for Medicaid, and top lawmakers are looking at using $14 million for budget restoration in the current year. The remaining $22 million would go into next year’s budget, he said.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, said the $14 million could be put into the prison system.
Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps has told sheriffs that because of budget cuts, he might have to pull some state inmates out of county jails next month. The state pays counties $20 per inmate per day. The inmates pick up litter and perform maintenance work on county buildings.
The current state budget started at nearly $6 billion. Unless some of the cuts are restored, most programs will lose nearly 8.7 percent of their money before the year ends June 30. Even as lawmakers continue trying to plug holes current budget, they’re working on separate plans to pay for state government in the coming year.