Budget by March? Well, maybe
For the past two months or so, Gov. Haley Barbour has said he needs more budget authority from the Legislature to balance the budget for fiscal year 2010. Because state law does not allow Barbour to cut the state budget more than 5 percent without legislative approval — he wants the authority to cut it 10 percent — and because the FY2010 budget will have to be cut across-the-board by a little more than 8 percent to balance, that means lawmakers will have to work on the current budget before they can turn their full attention to the FY2011 budget.
Barbour’s authority extension, he says, will allow him to balance FY2010’s budget while lawmakers hammer out FY2011’s spending plan. Trouble is, lawmakers would have to agree to such a plan, and as it stands now, that looks unlikely.
Those first two paragraphs are meant to say this: Unless there is a change in the political winds, there is almost no chance a budget for FY2011 gets done by the end of March. Balancing FY2010’s budget would, at a minimum, take a couple weeks, which would force negotiations for FY2011 to start later than usual, which would almost certainly force lawmakers to extend the session, just like last year when a budget agreement was reached only a few hours before the fiscal year started.
House and Senate leadership were confident before the session started that there would be a budget agreement by the end of March. They’re right, but it will be an agreement for the fiscal year that started last July, not the one that starts this July.
So get ready for a long, long session.
UPDATED AT 2:49 P.M. : Magnolia Marketplace just had about a two-minute conversation with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant about the possibility of lawmakers having to work past the regular adjournment date to get a budget passed for FY2011. He said it’s a near certainty the Senate will send a bill to the House that would give Barbour the authority to cut the budget by 10 percent. And if the House doesn’t pass it?
“I think we’ll be here until June if that happens,” Bryant said.