District Nine Report

Mississippi To Receive Over $1 Billion In Federal Stimulus Funds

By Gray Tollison

    The most important task facing the Legislature in the final month of the session is shaping our state budget in light of newly available federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) recently passed by Congress and signed by the President.  The Governor and legislative staff are working constantly to determine the specifics of this massive package and how the money can be used in this year’s budget.

    At this time, it appears that Mississippi will receive over $1 billion over the next three years from the stimulus package to replace cuts to existing programs (such as education), to reduce state matching funds for federal programs (such as Medicaid), and to begin one-time projects (such as road construction).

    Given the seriousness nature of the current economy, the federal stimulus funds will be extremely helpful to state and local governments in stemming the tide of reduced revenues and budget shortfalls over the next three years.  Hopefully, we will have returned to positive economic growth by 2011.    

    According to the Legislative Budget Office, there are two significant parts that provide immediate help with expenses usually paid by state government.  The first portion dedicates $392 million for elementary, secondary, post-secondary education in budget years 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Education cuts that the Governor made this year will be restored with the federal stimulus funds.  The ARRA law specifically mandates that if we are to spend the federal stimulus funds over the next three years, education spending will have to be maintained at the 2009 spending level.

    In addition, the package provides $87 million for public safety and other government services, which may include education modernization and construction. The second major part of the stimulus package reduces the state’s portion of the cost of Medicaid.  Finding state funding for Medicaid has been a major challenge for the Legislature in recent years.

    It is difficult to overstate the challenge of grasping the full scope and specifics of the stimulus package, especially in the short amount of time remaining in the legislative session.  Unlike the U.S. Congress, we do not meet all year.  All of us hope we can get the information we need so that we can finalize a budget by the time the Legislature is scheduled to complete its session on April 4.

    Finally, in a bill dealing with the state Parole Board, the Senate voted to make it more difficult for certain convicts to get out of prison on parole and to require a public hearing before the Governor may pardon convicted murderers.  Under the bill, a unanimous vote by the five-member state Parole Board would be required to release anyone convicted of capital murder or a sex crime.  I voted in favor of this important bill.

    In some good economic news this week, Gov. Barbour signed legislation that provides an incentive package to assist Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) in expanding operations at its Iuka facility. ATK currently produces large composite components for launch vehicles at its Iuka plant.  Last month, the company announced it will be producing composite frame and engine components for next-generation commercial aircraft.  This expansion of operations will increase the facility’s workforce from the 176 workers currently at the facility to a total of 800 high-wage employees over the next eight years.

    In ceremonial action this week, the Senate lauded two of the state’s football heroes – former Ole Miss greats Archie and Eli Manning. They both addressed the Senate and thanked members and the state for their support.

    It is an honor to serve you in the State Senate.  Please contact me if you ever have questions, comments or need assistance with the legislature or an agency of our state government.  I can be reached in Jackson by phone at 601-359-3245, email at gtollison@senate.ms.gov or mail at PO Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215-1018.  My phone number in Oxford is 662-234-7070, email is gray@tollisonlaw.com and mail is PO Box 1358, Oxford, MS 38655.

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