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Two huge Issues Come Into Focus For Mississippi Lawmakers

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 21 Sep 2012 04:59pm | comments

Two big choices could loom large as law makers decide how to spend state resources during the 2012 legislative session. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports leading state budget writers are now working on a recommended Mississippi budget that could serve as a blue print for the next fiscal year.

Two issues could dominate upcoming legislative session.

One is how much to spend on K-12 education in Mississippi and the formula that generates that total.

The other is whether or not to expand Medicaid.

The Department of Education asked for a 300-million dollar increase to fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the state's education funding formula.

The size of the increase irked some law makers on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee last week.

And this could set the stage for the law to be changed or dumped all together in the next session.

Representative John Moore is the House Education Chairman from Brandon.

"They can't actually walk in here and present a budget like the rest of the agencies do. They have to take a mandated formula and they can't really analyze it and say 'we could actually run it this way and we could be more efficient,'. We are going to take a look at that," Moore said.

But focusing only on the request and the formula misses the larger issue of educational needs in Mississippi says Nancy Loome with the Parents Campaign.

"What schools need to educate children well doesn't change on the whims of the legislature. What schools need is what they need. What children need is what they need. The legislature needs to acknowledge that," Loome said.

Loome says failure to fund MAEP in the past is not an excuse to abandon it now.

Mississippi Lawmakers might also take a stand on whether or not to expand Medicaid.

The expansion is on part of the Health Care Reform law.

Lawmakers have concerns about the cost of the program, but Ed Sivac with the Mississippi Economic Policy Center says that ignores the influx of federal money that would come from expansion.

"What are the benefits of having this increase of federal money. This billions of dollars that will be coming in. The jobs that will be created. The new revenue that will be created from those jobs. In addition to keeping hospitals whole. It is important that we look at the big picture and have all those facts before us," Sivac said.

Expanding Medicaid could bring more than 300-thousand Mississippians into the program.

The Division of Medicaid is conducting a new audit in conjunction with the State Economist to try and get a more complete picture of the costs and benefits of expansion.

That audit could play a key role in future of Mississippi's Medicaid program.

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