Dispatch – Despite haggling, budget contains record spending

In its mad-dash special session that ended at midnight as the new fiscal year arrived Wednesday, the Legislature sent Barbour the overdue budget bills. They’ve been struggling to finalize the appropriations since March in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“While not all issues are resolved, overall this is a prudent, balanced budget that I believe will serve the state’s taxpayers, agencies and their constituents well for the next fiscal year,” Barbour said in a statement he issued announcing the enactment of the new budget.

The Legislature didn’t pass the $8 million needed for the state Public Service Commission and Public Utilities Staff. The House and Senate couldn’t resolve disagreements over extra staffing. Barbour will call legislators back for another special session to fund the utility regulatory agencies.

State government’s overall budget has about $6 billion in state funds along with the special stimulus dollars plus about $14 billion in other federal funds and special state fees and taxes, according to the Legislative Budget Office.

Spending for all levels of education — elementary-secondary schools, community colleges and universities — will be the highest ever, Barbour noted, but federal stimulus funds made that possible.

The U.S. Congress in February provided funds to help states cope with the economic recession. Mississippi’s share totals about $2.8 billion to be available through 2010. Of that amount, the Legislature allocated for this year about $523 million for education and health care.

The Mississippi budget finalized Tuesday has about $250 million more than what was appropriated in state funds last year. While state tax collections are down, newly enacted cigarette and hospital taxes combined with the federal stimulus funds to boost the budget.

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