Friday, March 20, 2009

Latest on the Budget

We received updated revenue estimates, and it looks like the budget shortfall's final tally will be $301 million. Much of this is offset by the Governor's cuts last year and earlier this spring. The federal stimulus will hopefully make up the rest.

Next year's budget will be a little worse. Currently, it looks as though the current fiscal year 2010 estimate is $402.7 million less than the October estimate. That signals a lot of work to do on the budget before the session ends.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Meal Plan Bill Headed to Governor

The House concurred with the Senate amendments to HB 856. The bill would make prepaid "flex plans" on student meal plans tax exempt.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Meal Plan Bill Clears Senate

HB 856, our bill to restore tax-exempt status to all student meal plans, passed the Senate this morning. The Senate amended the bill to tighten the language restricting tax-exempt status solely to meal plans. The bill will now move back to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence.

Friday, March 6, 2009

HR 53 Congratulates Hattiesburg on its 125th Anniversary

This morning, the House of Representatives honored the city of Hattiesburg's 125th Anniversary with HR 53.

You can read the resolution by clicking here.

HHS Lady Basketball Advances to 5A State Finals

Yesterday, the Hattiesburg High Lady Tigers beat the Horn Lake Lady Eagles 51-48 to advance to the 5A State Championship game.

I was able to catch the first half of the game while the House had recessed for lunch yesterday, and it was a very exciting game. Hattiesburg High brought a great contingency of fans and supporters.

Congratulations to the Lady Tigers, and best of luck in Saturday's final.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Voter ID Dies in Senate Committee

Voter ID was killed in the Senate Apportionment & Elections Committee earlier today. HB 1533, which would have created mandatory photo voter ID, early voting and registration three days before an election, had potential to put to rest one of the long-standing fights in Mississippi government.

It was a frustrating defeat for something House Republicans and conservative Democrats worked tirelessly to push through the House. We had to take HB 1533 as it was and amend it to include mandatory photo voter ID by piecing together 62 votes (we ended up getting 64 on the amendment and 77 on final passage). Even with our amendments, the bill had its faults, as other amendments were added in a five-hour debate back in February. Individuals born before August 1, 1944 were exempt. The voter registration three days before an election presented big logistical issues for circuit clerks. However- it was photo voter ID, and we pushed it through the House.

While I understand wanting a bill to be perfect, no bill ever will be. The common sense thing would have been for the Senate committee to send the bill to the floor, have the full Senate to have vote on it (and hopefully pass it) and send it to the Governor for approval. If this had been done, Mississippi would have had voter ID by July 1, 2009.

Now, we'll have to wait for Mississippians for Voter ID to gather enough signatures to the put the measure on the ballot as a proposed Constitutional amendment in November 2010.

Homestead Exemption Bill Dies in Committee

SB 2300, which would have raised the Homestead Exemption amount from $75,000 to $100,000 for individuals 65 or older, as well those individuals who are disabled, died in committee. It was not brought up for a vote.

The Need for Transparency

Alabama announced last Friday that it would develop a Web site for its citizens to track how their state's share of stimulus money is spent. The Web site's URL is Individuals and groups will also be able to electronically submit project proposals for the stimulus money.

Whether folks agreed or disagreed on the stimulus package, I think a universal point of agreement is the need for complete transparency on where money is going. Citizens and organizations need accurate information on how to submit for projects. Projects need to go out for bid, with contractors and small businesses having a level playing field when bidding for these projects.

Mississippi needs its own Web site to track stimulus dollars. People should be able to see how money was spent, which projects are out for bid and who was awarded those bids. This will ensure maximum transparency and accountability for such a massive sum of money.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Homestead Exemption Bill Faces Deadline

SB 2300, which would raise the homestead exemption from $75,000 to $100,000 for those individuals who are 65 or older or disabled, faces a crucial committee deadline tomorrow. The bill is currently in the Ways & Means Committee. The committee has until 8 p.m. tomorrow to pass the bill as it is or amend it and pass it out so that it will at least make the House calendar. That would give it a shot of being passed and going to conference committee.