July 3, 2009
At midnight on Tuesday, Mississippi lawmakers shuffled out of the capitol with a $6.01 billion budget approved. It wasn’t pretty but it wasn’t Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio or Pennsylvania either. Those states are still scrambling to close billions of dollars in budget gaps.
As expected, Mississippi’s budget offers plenty to like and plenty to shake your head at. I’ll start with some of the high points:
Wind Pool: House Bill 32 was signed by the Governor on Tuesday and took effect on Wednesday morning. As we’ve discussed in these updates many times before, this bill authorizes an additional $20 million appropriation for the Wind Pool program. This money will be used to purchase additional reinsurance and will very likely lead to significant premium discounts. I was glad to co-sponsor this bill and think it represents a major victory for homeowners and businesses across the Gulf Coast.
Car Tags: House Bill 34 was also approved on Tuesday and represents a 4.25% legislative tag credit. This credit is lower than last year’s credit but considering the fact that a credit wasn’t included in the Governor’s original proposed budget, it represents a budget success. You can read this bill at http://bit.ly/pqRJ2. Note that this credit will not be available until July 8. However, we have been assured that drivers will not risk receiving a ticket if their tag only recently expired.
Education: Under the education appropriation passed during the special session, schools will receive full MAEP funding, including special education and gifted programs, as well as the supplement promised to National Board Certified Teachers. This bill also authorizes the second phase of the pay raise for teachers with more than 25 years of experience. This marks the second consecutive non-election year that MAEP has been fully funded. This measure marks a major win for children and teachers.
Jackson County Crisis Intervention Center: An amendment to Senate Bill 2046 will help clear the way for a crisis intervention center to be administered by the Singing River Hospital System in Jackson County. This center will offer prevention and intervention services in an effort to provide support in times of crisis and reduce the impact of addiction and crime in our community. I presented this amendment on the floor of the House and was happy to have the entire Jackson County House delegation as co-sponsors. You can read the amendment at http://bit.ly/ZGAQ2.
Hospital Taxes and Katrina Money We Won’t See: I’m hesitant to call the Medicaid bill “bad”. After all, it serves 20% of all Mississippians. My problem was with two poison pills in the final bill. First, the bill authorized $210 million dollars worth of hospital taxes over the next three years. As you’ve heard me say before, this tax will result in more expensive hospital visits, higher insurance rates, and significant strains on doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers in Mississippi hospitals. That’s way too much tax in this economic climate. Second, the bill authorized a supplemental Medicaid reimbursement for hospitals most adversely impacted by Hurricane Katrina. While the hospitals in Hancock and Harrison County were included, our own Singing River Hospital System was not. That’s why Rep. Hank Zuber and I sponsored an amendment to place Singing River in line for these payments. You can read the amendment at http://bit.ly/yQomM. When that amendment failed on two occasions, I couldn’t stomach voting for the bill.
Public Service Commission: The only part of the budget left undone at the close of the special session was the budget for the Public Service Commission. The PSC regulates telecommunications, and electrical, natural gas, water and sewer utilities. It also enforces a no-call list designed to help consumers avoid unwanted telephone solicitations. The sticking point in this budget item was a request by the Commissioners for additional staff. The House agreed, the Senate agreed for a minute and then decided against the addition. I call this silly because we allowed over 100 additional staffers for all kinds of agencies during the budget process. I’m yet to hear someone articulate why, in light of all the staffing additions, our regulators at the PSC shouldn’t get the measly 11 new positions they requested. I spoke with Commissioners Bentz and Presley who were equally perplexed. Presley noted that it’ll cost about as much to have a special session over their budget as it would have to agree to these positions in the first place. That’s pretty silly.
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