BRADENTON, Fla. — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour presented his fiscal 2009 general fund budget to the Legislature yesterday, recommending expenditures of $5.6 billion, which represents only a 0.4% increase over the current year.

As expected, the budget contains no new debt spending. It does provide $314.5 million for payment on outstanding bonds in fiscal 2009. Mississippi has more than $3.1 billion of outstanding general obligation debt.

Barbour said the small budget increase for fiscal 2009 is due to the softening national economy and the slowing rate of state revenue increases.

Most of the increase in the budget is earmarked for K-12 education and teachers’ salary increases. In addition, Barbour is proposing a $382.8 million rainy-day fund, up from $270 million currently in reserve.

“Working together, we have dramatically increased spending on priority programs during the last four years,” Barbour said. “However, during a time of economic uncertainty on the national and statewide level, we must make tough decisions that enable us to live within our means without shortchanging programs like education, health care, and social services.”

“My balanced budget recognizes these challenges while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility,” he added.

The governor said his budget promotes transportation infrastructure improvements, but without new debt. He earmarked $25 million from unencumbered special funds in the state treasury to finance 20-year, low-interest loans for cities, counties, and ports to make road improvements that relate to qualified new or expanding companies creating new jobs.

In his state of the state address on Monday, Barbour said he would not support additional debt issuance unless the proceeds create jobs. Lawmakers have filed a number of bills that would finance various projects with state GOs. Those will be considered in the legislative session which began Jan. 8 and runs though May 12.

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