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Barbour: Legislative agenda related to job creation

By By Georgia E. Frye / staff writer
March 7, 2004
Gov. Haley Barbour says his legislative agenda including proposals to solve the state's budget crisis and improve public education is rooted in an effort to create new jobs.
Barbour, a Republican, stopped in Meridian last week on a swing across the state. He discussed his agenda in an interview with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The 2004 Legislature is expected to end its four-month session in May. Before then, state House and Senate members are expected to consider many proposals offered by Barbour.
The Meridian Star: Tell us about your legislative agenda.
Haley Barbour: All of it is related to job creation, directly or somewhat indirectly.
The first big push we made … is to improve work force development job training. I have introduced a comprehensive work force development job training reform bill, and I am very pleased with how it has been received in the Legislature. It passed the Senate 42-5. It's out of all the committees in the House, ready to go to the floor of the House.
The second thing is tort reform. Lawsuit abuse is a huge obstacle to job creation in Mississippi. It threatens, even damages, the quality, availability and affordability of health care. And quality health care is an essential for job creation. People aren't going to move their families or employees somewhere if they are not certain of quality health care.
The third thing we have a teacher package about recruiting and retaining teachers. Sen. Videt Carmichael from here in Meridian is the principal sponsor for the bill in the Senate to make it easier for us to keep our more experienced teachers.
Mississippi has about a 2,000 gap every year in teacher needs. We need about 3,000 new teachers a year. Our schools of education graduate 1,200 or 1,500, but typically only about 1,000 stay in Mississippi and teach. So we have about a 2,000 teacher shortage per year. One way to make it up is to have fewer teachers retire.
But our state retirement system gives financial incentives to go ahead and retire. We worked with Sen. Carmichael and House education leaders to have a bill to keep those teachers teaching in Mississippi's public schools.
And the last thing is the budget, what I call "Operation Streamline." The budget that I presented would reduce the projected $709 million shortfall the first year to $356 million and eliminate it the second year.
Our Medicaid reform bill, which would save $130 on Medicaid spending … does not change the eligibility requirements (and) it doesn't take benefits away from people who are eligible.
The two big ways we save is bulk purchasing for discounts using a preferred drug list. And the federal Medicare prescription drug benefit will allow a lot of people who right now get prescription drugs through Medicaid to get them through Medicare which means the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost rather than us paying 22 percent of the cost. We think there are about 60,000 Mississippians who will not have to pay our share because they will get their drugs through Medicare.