Biting the Budget Bullet?

While state lawmakers convened late Monday afternoon, local elected officials talked about Mississippi's budget crunch during a morning meeting.

According to numbers circulated by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, Mississippi is short by over $326 million for the current budget year and is looking at a possible $624 million deficit for fiscal year 2006.

Rep. Greg Snowden told the Council of Governments in Meridian that Medicaid is a huge part of the problem.

"The big ticket item since 2000, Medicaid, has increased the state expenditure on Medicaid by almost 110 percent just in that short period of time," said Snowden. "Which again illustrates the problem. Medicaid will soak up all the money we have for education, for everything else, unless and until we get a handle on it."

Snowden said Medicaid is running a huge deficit every year and the current system is not sustainable.

"The debate all last year about the PLADS (Poverty-level, Aged and Disabled) category and all that is a drop in the bucket. The program is much bigger than PLADs. In fact, the PLADS were only about six percent of the entire Medicaid population," Snowden said.

Snowden said Gov. Haley Barbour has urged lawmakers to address the Medicaid funding dilemma within the next week. The governor is required by law to bring the program into compliance with cuts, if another solution isn't found.

Lauderdale County supervisor Jimmie Smith said the public has a high expectation of its government.

"Probably 75 percent of your increase in your deficit is about providing services that state government has provided for years, but it has gone up in cost," Smith said.

Snowden says if the state can swallow some cuts in nearly every agency this year, it might get some flexibility back in future budgets.