Higher ed's budget balloon could pop

Mississippi's university system is seeking more than a 36 percent budget increase for the coming year — an amount it's unlikely to receive as lawmakers balance the needs of higher education with all other demands for state services.

"I think they will receive full consideration," House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said Wednesday. "Obviously, when you look at the enormity of the request, it cannot all be done."

McCoy's comments came after higher education officials spent more than 2 1/2 hours presenting their spending requests to the speaker and the other 13 members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The committee on Thursday enters the fourth of eight days of budget hearings. The hearings are the first step in lawmakers' lengthy process of deciding how to divvy up tax dollars for the year that starts July 1.

Gov. Haley Barbour will make his own budget recommendations in November, and the Budget Committee will release its plan before the legislative session starts in January. All 122 members of the House and 52 members of the Senate will get to vote on a final budget plan by early April.

Mississippi is still facing economic uncertainty as it recovers from Hurricane Katrina, which struck Aug. 29, 2005. Although state tax collections have increased since the storm, officials say they don't know whether steady growth will continue.