Stimulus cash might not cover shortfall

As state revenue plummets, officials don’t know whether the millions in federal stimulus dollars available this year can help them head off more budget cuts.

Ed Legrand, director of the state Department of Mental Health, said he’s worried the stimulus funds won’t be enough to cover his agency’s shortfall. Ethics Commission Director Tom Hood said more cuts will prevent his agency from fulfilling requirements that are set in law, such as conducting investigations and holding monthly commission meetings.

“There’s not much more we can cut without closing the doors,” said Hood, who oversees a staff of seven.

Mississippi collected $427.3 million for the general fund in March, according to the State Tax Commission. That’s $48 million, or 10 percent, below what was anticipated – a steep decline from February, when collections were 4 percent below projections.

Lawmakers are postponing spending decisions until they learn how federal funds affect the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. As a result, state agencies’ funding is in limbo until the 2009 regular legislative session resumes in May or June.

Mississippi stands to receive $2.8 billion for a multiyear period, and Gov. Haley Barbour is planning an April 16 stimulus summit to learn about spending requirements.

Gov. Haley Barbour’s Mississippi Stimulus Summit is scheduled for April 16 from 2-4 p.m. at the Jackson Convention Complex. Agency leaders will discuss how they intend to spend federal stimulus funds and answer questions from the public. E-mail questions to [email protected]

Clarion-Ledger 4/3/9