Legislative Report

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Mississippi House leaders say there's no reason for panic about the possibility of Medicaid going broke by the end of this month. The House has passed a bill that would fund the health care program through late March, near the end of the legislative session. Now, it awaits consideration in a Senate committee.

Medicaid has a $268 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2005. The program's executive director, Dr. Warren Jones, told a federal judge Thursday that Medicaid will run out of its current state allocation by Feb. 28.

The House funding bill, which passed 117 to zero, would take $29 million of money the state has already received from higher-than-expected tax collections this fiscal year. It also would take $20.6 million from the state's rainy day fund.

House leaders say the state money, combined with a nearly four-to-one federal match, would get Medicaid through the end of March.

The Mississippi Senate has delayed action on a proposal to divert gaming taxes from a casino road fund to the public schools. Senators Friday put the bill aside so absent lawmakers could be on hand for debate.

A program approved in 1994 diverted a portion of the gaming tax to a fund to improve highways going to and from the casinos. The Department of Transportation used the money to repay bonds that financed the construction projects.

While the gaming road program was scheduled to end in 2012, lawmakers later extended it until 2022.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Chaney of Vicksburg wanted the $58 million in the fund to be used for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

He proposed the diversion of gaming taxes in an amendment to an education bill dealing with money for school supplies and equipment.