At one time, a cigarette tax was thought to be the solution to funding a shortfall at Mississippi's division of Medicaid.
Now in the troubling economy, lawmakers hope a hospital assessment will help. But nothing is as easy as it might seem.
The House proposal would generate $45 million through a hospital assessment tax. But it also included what Sen. Alan Nunnelee calls add-ons that would expand Medicaid anywhere from $36 million to $52 million.
"We're discussing a House proposal, and it's obvious the House members don't have a clue what your proposal costs," said Nunnelee.
But with expected stimulus funds from the federal government, lawmakers say Medicaid will be covered.
"We're getting $184 million from the stimulus package for Medicaid," said Rep. Johnny Stringer. "We're saving, I think, it's $272 million in 2010. We don't need the hospital sick tax."
Only one problem, the state's budget sure could use the $45 million generated from a hospital assessment tax.
"If we get that done, we'd have a budget that would work for at least the next year and hopefully the next two years," said Rep. Cecil Brown.
Still, lawmakers walked away without an agreement.
"We've got a definite amount from the cigarette tax and we know we have zero on hospitals, so we'll begin to put together a budget that reflects that," said Nunnelee.
"Without it, it's going to be very difficult to fund the budget," Brown said.
Lawmakers return May 6 to continue the 2009 legislative session that recessed in early April.