Haley Barbour

January 6, 2010 by USA Post 

20100106-004621-pic-427230963.embedded.prod_affiliate.77Haley Barbour: Gov. Haley Barbour said there’s a little more bipartisanship at the Capitol this year because lawmakers find themselves dealing with the worst budget situation many have ever seen.

In a meeting with the Sun Herald on Tuesday, Barbour, who is in his second term, said lawmakers seem to be more cooperative than in any other session he’s seen as governor.

“This is my seventh session and for the last six or eight weeks, I have sensed more cooperation, more openness to doing hard things, more will to make tough political decisions on a bipartisan basis than for my first six years,” Barbour said. “…I think the legislative budget problem has gotten sufficiently dire that people in both parties understand it can’t be business as usual.”

Barbour credited House Speaker Billy McCoy, a Democrat with whom Barbour, a Republican, often finds himself on the other side of debates, being willing to hear new ideas. This year’s refrain among many lawmakers is that all ideas should be considered.

“I think Speaker McCoy has been very prudent in not passing judgement on anything and he has said more than once that everything is on the table,” Barbour said.

Tough times

Barbour said recently that state tax collections for December were $41 million below expectations, which is 10.8 percent less than predicted, according to preliminary numbers. The governor said revenue has been below projections for 16 consecutive months. Barbour said some funds will disappear over the next few years including a large chunk of federal money, including $360 million that will be there in 2011, but not in 2012 and some $60 million in tobacco funds that were used this year won’t be available next year. Other funds will dry up. Barbour said a total of about $1.2 billion may have to be saved over the next couple of years.

Barbour said the state has about $235 million in its “rainy day fund,” which he favors stretching out for three years.

“If we spend it all in one year, I can tell you 2012 is going to be worse than fiscal year 2011,” Barbour said.

More cuts

Barbour recently asked lawmakers to give him the ability to make cuts to state departments of up to 10 percent to balance their budgets. That would change the law that allows him to make no more than a 5 percent cut to any agency. Barbour said 2010 looks bad and the next few years look worse.

“It is going to take the whole 10 percent to make up the shortfall,” Barbour said.

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