Local lawmakers are ‘disappointed’|[4/8/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2005

Delegates to the Legislature from Vicksburg said Thursday they were disappointed and embarrassed to leave the Capitol without a budget, but disagree on what went wrong.

Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to call lawmakers back to Jackson for a special session before the start of the state’s fiscal year on July 1. Failing to approve a budget before then could result in a shutdown of state government.

“We’ve got no choice; we’ve got to resolve this by July 1 or we’re at a constitutional impasse,” said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg. The Constitution assigns creating an annual revenue and spending plan to lawmakers. This year’s failure is a first in state history.

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Flaggs, who serves on the Joint Legislative Budget committee, blamed the breakdown on leadership in both chambers of the Legislature, but across the Capitol, Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, singled out House leaders who, he said, were unwilling to compromise.

“I think it’s a disgrace that we did not do a budget. It’s just a case of some hard-headed folks in the House who wanted their way or no way. Government is about compromise,” Chaney said. “This was a tragic mistake.”

He said the breakdown was over funding for state community colleges and the Institutions of Higher Learning. Chaney said the Senate had proposed putting $79 million into higher education, but the House only wanted $11 million.

Chaney said that would have forced higher tuitions across the state.

“We would have cut out the opportunity to go to college for many of our people,” Chaney said.

Chaney said he did support raising the tax on cigarettes to help fund health care, but the majority of the Senate has remained aligned with the governor’s stand against any tax increase.

Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, said that was another reason for the failure between the House and Senate.

“The Senate did not want any cuts or to raise any revenue and there’s no way they can balance the budget that we’ve got without any new revenue or cuts,” Masterson said.

Masterson said that without cuts or increased revenue the state will face a deficit next year.

“We’re just going to wait and see what the governor does. I think we can do it, but the problem is that we’ve got more needs than resources,” Flaggs said.

The 90-day session was extended until Wednesday in an effort to work out the differences in the budget. That extension cost $56,109.

Lawmakers said that the 2005 session wasn’t a complete loss and pointed to successful legislation that passed this year. Earlier in the session they passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act and the Economic Redevelopment Act which will provide funding to help clean up the vacant Vicksburg Chemical site.

Another act will allow industries that miss the filing deadline for tax exemption to still apply for part of the exemptions the next year. Chaney said that could effect 1,700 jobs statewide and industries in Warren County.

“It has a great deal of effect on jobs,” Chaney said.