Budget writers try to peg Katrina effect

Mississippi's long, expensive recovery from Hurricane Katrina is still fueling higher-than-expected state tax collections, but there are only so many new roofs and new refrigerators still to be bought.

So, officials are taking an "optimistic but cautious approach" as they start mapping out a state budget for the coming year, says House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.

McCoy and other members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee met with Gov. Haley Barbour on Tuesday. Together, they took two steps:

  • They increased the estimate for the current year's budget from nearly $4.5 billion to nearly $4.7 billion. That makes an additional $192.7 million available for state programs between now and June 30. The change was made because tax collections have been significantly higher than expected over the past four months.
  • Then, Barbour and the legislative committee set a budget estimate of just over $4.9 billion for the fiscal year that starts next July 1.

Using both sets of revised figures, officials said there will be 5.3 percent more money to spend next year on schools, prisons and other state services.

Lawmakers will work within the $4.9 billion estimate to divvy up tax dollars during the three-month session that starts in January -- a session that leads into the November 2007 elections, when all legislative seats and statewide offices will be filled.

"It should be a pretty good year for the citizens of Mississippi in the way of shoring up some of the cuts of the last ... three years," said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who's on the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee.