Worst Budget Crisis?

By: Stan Torgerson
By: Stan Torgerson

The joint legislative budget committee released its budget recommendations for 2006 on Wednesday.

One major goal of the lawmakers is to restore Medicaid benefits to those cut from the system. That includes millions of dollars to cover people in the Poverty Level, Aged, or Disabled category, or PLAD.

Lawmakers along with the governor base their budget position on a $3.8 billion estimate of projected revenue for next year. It's unknown if a tax or fee hike would be necessary.

Meanwhile, Gov. Barbour's plan released Tuesday calls for no tax hike, but it does give agency directors the power to cut state jobs or make changes to save money, and he proposes fully funding a teacher pay raise and increasing overall spending on K through 12 by $66.9 million over the current year.

State Rep. Johnny Stringer, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, visited Meridian Wednesday. His committee is in charge of allocating money to operate state government.

Stringer visited Bonita Lakes, the Opera House project and NAS Meridian in an effort to see the changes and needs in Lauderdale County.

Stringer commented on the governor's approach to the state's money problems.

"His budget still cuts K through 12, adequate education, and really we're not raising taxes but the local government will have to raise taxes, the counties," said Stringer. "That's the governor's plan. That's the only disagreement I really have with the governor."

But Stringer concedes additional monies must be found somewhere.

"We're going to probably have to try to raise some type of revenue and I'm not too much on raising revenue, but I'd rather raise it at the state level than at the local level," Stringer said.

Newscenter 11 asked if the state can find the additional dollars.

"We've talked about fees and some fees haven't been raised in 35 years," said the chairman. "And some of the permits we issue are free and I believe that people that use state government ought to pay for it. Right now we're paying for it."

Stringer said he will examine the governor's plan with an open mind.

"You know we're going to use some of the governor's plan. I don't care who comes up with an idea, if it's a good idea we're going to use it," said Stringer.

In 25 years in the Legislature, Stringer said this is the worst financial crunch he has seen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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