‘Uncertain road’ ahead for state

The Democrat.com

By: Melissa Turner, News Editor January 19, 2010

Mississippi Representatives

State Rep. Joe Gardner, Sen. Nolan Mettetal, and Rep. Larry Baker attended a legislative breakfast last week at Senatobia City Hall. Sen. Robert Jackson and Rep. Clara Burnett were not in attendance at the meeting.

Money – it’s on the mind of most folks these days, and that also applies to our elected officials.

Three of those officials came to the annual Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Entergy Mississippi and coordinated by the Tate County Economic Development Foundation.

Rep. Larry Baker, Sen. Nolan Mettetal, and Rep. Joe Gardner all attended the meeting last Monday at Senatobia City Hall, along with several dozen local officials and citizens.

Baker said that the session had started earlier this month with an incentive program to assist Tunica County with a German pipe manufacturer, which recently announced it would locate there.

But the biggest talk at the capitol, he said, was the continual budget cuts, which Governor Haley Barbour was doling out.

Under state law, Baker said, the governor is allowed to cut 5% from the budgets of state agencies, but cannot cut more until each agency has been cut. However, Barbour has been asking the legislature for authorization to cut up to 10%, saying that some agencies can better sustain the cuts than others.

Sen. Mettetal thanked the local leadership, saying that having excellent officials here made his job easier – but adding that there was nothing easy about being in the state legislature right now.

“The budget is overwhelming, it consumes everything” he admitted. “Other issues are legitimate, but the are being put on the back burner.”

“We are walking an uncertain road,” he said.

Also a concern was the upcoming census, and whether any local legislators would be involved in reapportionment of representatives.

None of them are on the reapportionment committee, but Mettetal said that the issue of representation would probably be settled by the courts, not the legislature.

Rep. Gardener said he was optimistic about recently released employment numbers, but admitted that there was only so much money to go around at the state level. Budget cuts were hard, he said, because they could mean lost income for a state worker.

“We keep getting phone calls, ‘Don’t cut us,'” he said. “If we listened to everyone who said ‘Don’t cut us,’ no one would ever get cut.”

Bill Burford, President of the Board of Supervisors, asked the legislators to make sure that this next year’s budget was more “realistic,” saying that the local governments had to make up funding shortfalls when the state mandated programs but did not fund them.

Those budgets were made on income estimates, Burford was told, which Mettetal said had been revised downward each month for the past several months.

Senatobia Mayor Alan Callicott asked the men about the possibility of a statewide smoking ban, saying that 27 states now have such a law.

Baker and Mettetal said they were opposed to such a law, because they were opposed to larger government.

Coldwater Alderman Harold Davis asked what kind of cost savings would be seen by the potential consolidation of school districts, but Baker said that any savings would probably not be significant in an area like Tate County.

The lawmakers stayed around for several minutes afterward to speak with individual citizens.

Hmm…I wonder which German pipe maker that is?

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