- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi lawmakers are pushing forward early drafts of budget bills that are likely to change before a final deadline.

Proposals show the overall budget is on track to shrink because tax collections continue to lag behind expectations.

The budget-writing deadline is in late March, and the new year begins July 1.

Even as they work on the new year, lawmakers are filling gaps in the current budget. Some agencies could receive much less than they requested.

Medicaid is seeking an additional $89 million to get through June 30. The House proposes $43 million, while the Senate proposes $40 million.

“This is what we were told they could live with,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Read, R-Gautier.

Read and Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said Medicaid could push payments for some expenses into the new budget year.

“They’re going to kick the can,” Read said. “It’s done every year. Do I like it? No.”

Legislators are considering an additional $7.6 million that Treasurer Lynn Fitch requested for payments on the state’s long-term debt before the end of June. Fitch earlier said the state needs $14.4 million, but later said the state saved money by the way it structured a December bond sale.

The House is also proposing $1.7 million that the Department of Public Safety could spend before June 30 to start work on training a new class of state troopers. Clarke said the department has saved enough to cover the rest of the cost, $7 million or more.

Lawmakers argued over some budget proposals Wednesday. In a split vote, the Senate voted to take $1.5 million from Mississippi Public Broadcasting and give the money to the state veterans board.

House Democrats unsuccessfully protested a proposed cut for the Department of Health.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, argued that fewer people are going into public health clinics. Instead, he said they go to primary care doctors.

“The nature of health care is changing,” Mims said.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, warned members they were accepting a drastic reduction in the department.

“The board of health is such a critical state agency,” Holland said, slapping the lectern. “If they didn’t provide birth control, where would we be? Have mercy.”

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, warned Holland about arguing with other members of the chamber.

The Health Department bill passed, 74-40. Like other budget bills that cleared the House, it moves to the Senate for more work. The Senate also passed a long list of budget bills Wednesday, and those will go to the House.

The heavy lifting on the budget is done in the final days of the session, when top members from each chamber negotiate final deals over how much each program will receive.


Associated Press writer Sarah Smith contributed to this report.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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