Top Mississippi lawmakers reach $5.5B budget deal

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS – Associated Press Writer


 Top Mississippi lawmakers said Friday they’ve reached a $5.5 billion budget deal for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and most state programs will take cuts because money is tight.

“While it is not an ideal budget, it does fund government at the basic level,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate.

The announcement of an agreement came after business hours, and just four days before the full House and Senate return to the Capitol to consider the spending plan. Negotiators had been meeting behind closed doors most of this week.

“It’s not a budget that I’m proud of, but I’m very proud that we have a budget,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo. “Just like families have been making cuts in their personal budgets in a down economy, the budget leaders in the Legislature have had to make some cuts.”

Legislators were in session from early January until late March, but took a break about three weeks ago because they were hoping Congress would approve $187 million in additional federal stimulus money for Mississippi. Budget writers wanted to include the cash in the state spending plan.

The stimulus money is still on hold, and it’s unclear when Congress might vote. House and Senate negotiators said the $187 million is not part of the state budget, but there’s a contingency plan to use $110 million if the money arrives later. The remaining $77 million would be set aside, with plans to carry it over into the following budget year.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday that having a second, contingent budget for the federal stimulus money would be a “terrible management practice” because it would give agency directors false hope about how much money they’d receive.

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