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Lawmakers to take up budget bills on Monday

March 31, 2011

By SHELIA BYRD
Associated Press

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers say they’ll begin work Monday on passing a nearly $5.5 billion plan to pay for public school schools, colleges, mental health services and other state programs during the upcoming fiscal year.
The House and Senate voted Thursday to extend the session to give themselves more time to consider the budget agreement that a small group of negotiators reached late Wednesday after a lengthy impasse between the two chambers.
The Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate had been at odds mostly over how much money to leave in the state’s financial reserves and how much to spend on K-12 public education and the Department of Mental Health. The agreement came a day after a rally for education and mental health drew about 500 supporters to the Capitol.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said he’s glad a deal was finally reached.
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said he approved of the plan, which leaves $206 million in reserve, including nearly $88 million in the state’s rainy day fund.
“While the spending is higher than I would like, the House did move $50 million or so. I had asked them to reduce spending by $77 million, and that they would compromise that much was a step in the right direction,” Barbour told reporters Thursday. “The Senate felt like it was the best deal we were going to get, so I agreed to it.”
Barbour had earlier expressed concern that the lawmakers’ approval of next year’s revenue estimate was too optimistic.
The state College Board said in a news release the budget proposal reduced spending at the universities by less than 2 percent.
“Understanding the national recession and in anticipation of reduced state revenues, our universities built business plans two years ago that will allow them to manage within the proposed budget,” Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said in the statement.

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