2010 legislative session begins - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

2010 legislative session begins

By Kevin Wheeler - bio | email 

JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - The talk of 2009 was all about how to get a balanced budget for the next fiscal year. Lawmakers are going to work in a time where the states recession is only getting deeper.

The budget will be the main issue. The state has seen a decrease in sales tax revenues for 16 straight months. That means state budgets will have to be cut.

"We're going to have to deal with the reality of it and the reality is that the state is going to have to operate on less money again," said Representative Larry Byrd.

"I think each of us has to be realistic," said Representative Toby Barker. "While we hope that we can fund some other things, the fact is they money is just not there and we can't appropriate more money that we don't have."

"We have to operate within the available revenue that's available for the appropriation, so it will certainly be necessary for us to cut the overall budget," said Representative Percy Watson, chairman of the house Ways and Means Committee.

Governor Haley Barbour is asking the legislature for power to cut 10% from most state agencies.  He also wants to consolidate about 150 school districts in to 100 and the eight universities into five.

Representative Percy Watson does not like the idea.

"That would not result in many cost savings at the state level," said Watson.

The session will be a challenge for the house and senate, but legislators are optimistic the will come together and avoid a prolonged session.

"What no one wants is to have a repeat of what happened last year where we didn't have the job finished by the end of April and had to drag it on into the summer months," said Sen. Joey Fillingane.

"We don't need a special session because then we're just costing tax payers more money that we can use for other things," said Rep. Toby Barker.

Legislators are not expected to work on many policy issues during this session.  The focus will be on where to put what little money is available and it could be a long battle to the finish line.

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