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Funding to be legislative concern

Madison County legislators say money, or the lack of it, will be the focus of their 2010 session.

"The biggest priority will be the budget," state Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones of Canton said. "We can't spend what we don't have."

Speaking to a Madison County Business League forum last week, Jones and state Reps. Philip Gunn and Mark Baker answered questions about how the upcoming session will affect Madison County and the rest of the state.

"This year will be tough," Gunn said, adding that Mississippi is no different than the rest of the nation in dealing with the slumping economy.

"We'll have to grapple with where to cut. We'll try to make it as painless as possible," Gunn said.

Gov. Haley Barbour this week released his 2010 budget proposal to deal with the economic downtown that has led to historically low levels of state tax collections. Barbour's proposed budget touches every aspect of state government.

Jones said the Legislature will have to strike a balance between cutting funding and meeting citizens' needs. "We have to make cuts but we have to keep services," he said.

"This is not a time to raise taxes," Baker said. "People are hurting so we've got to find a way to cut spending."

Gunn said the Legislature needs to take a hard look at government to curtail spending and eliminate waste. "Every agency is going to experience a cut of some degree," he said.

Baker the the emphasis on containing spending will most likely limit discussions of other proposals. "Unless it deals with money, it's not going to go very far this year.

After the 2010 census, the Legislature will be tackling the issue of redistricting once the data is returned to the state.

Gunn said the likelihood is that fast-growing Madison County could pick up a seat in the House of Representatives or a part of a seat. "I'd hate to lose my one-third in Madison County," said the Clinton resident, who represents a portion of the western side of Madison County.

Baker, a Brandon resident whose district runs from the Rankin/Scott line to the Bridgewater area of Ridgeland, said the lines are confusing. For instance, in the Fairfield subdivision off Mississippi 463, Gunn represents the odd numbered houses on the outer ring of the neighborhood while Baker has the inner ring of even numbered houses.

"What interests do the people on the outside have different from those on the inside," Gunn said. "It's just another attempt to gerrymander."

With Madison County represented by eight different House districts criss-crossing the county, "how is the county so diverse that it requires eight different representatives," Gunn said.

"It needs to be clearer. It needs to be simpler," he said.

Madison County residents should not hesitate to contact their legislators if an issue comes up they would like to see addressed by the Legislature, the elected officials said.

Lawmakers' contact information can be found online at http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/.

"I appreciate the opportunity to represent Madison County," Baker said. "You send me an email, I'll respond to you right then (during the session). Tell us what we need to know. We appreciate the input."

November 19, 2009 - By Lucy Webber, Madison County Herald

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