The Clarion-Ledger, 1/4/9

State lawmakers return to work Tuesday for a 90-day regular legislative session that could produce higher taxes and heated debate over spending priorities.

Proposed tax hikes on cigarettes and hospitals to provide new revenue are expected to dominate much of the discussion after Mississippi House and Senate members convene. Tax relief for some Mississippians also has been proposed, but some lawmakers question its feasibility amid this shaky economy.

Also looming is uncertainty over how much money will be available in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Tax collections have slowed, prompting about $42 million in cuts from the $5 billion budget in the current fiscal year.

Economists aren’t predicting improvements any time soon, and more cuts could be on the way. Meanwhile, most state agencies are asking for more money for fiscal 2010.