By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON (AP) — The chant of “No more cuts! No more cuts!” reverberated off the marble walls of the Mississippi Capitol rotunda Tuesday as about 500 people rallied to support funding for education and mental health services.
Legislators are trying to write a budget for the year that begins July 1.
Leaders in the Democratic-controlled House say they oppose some ideas presented by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and the Republican-controlled Senate, including a proposed reduction in classroom supply money and tight funding for mental health centers.
Lawmakers missed a Saturday night deadline to file a $5.5 billion budget outline, and it’s not clear when they’ll finish the job.
“It’s time for us to stop playing political games with our children,” Kevin Gilbert, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said at the rally, drawing cheers from the crowd that filled the central hub of the Capitol’s second floor.
Dozens of spectators lined the railings on the building’s third and fourth floors, including many who stood in front of the governor’s third-floor office. Barbour was not at the Capitol during the rally but was working across the street at his main office in the Sillers state office building, his spokeswoman Laura Hipp said.
Tupelo resident Lori Dickerson, a surgical nurse, said at the rally she was diagnosed 12 years ago with clinical depression, but state mental health services have helped her live a good life and hold onto her marriage and family.
She said the darkest day of her life was when she was handcuffed, taken before a judge and committed. Dickerson recalled that her husband told the judge about her shortfalls because of the depression. She said she hurled her wedding ring at her husband as he tried to hug her when she was taken to the mental hospital.
“I thank God that a bed was available and I didn’t have to go to jail,” Dickerson said.
But some mental patients have been held in some county jails over the years while awaiting beds in state hospitals, said Charlie Spearman, executive director of Timber Hills Mental Health Services, which is based in Corinth and serves four northeastern counties.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said at the rally that education and mental health services rely on state and local funding.
“If we cut them, local property taxes will go up,” Brown said.
Legislators’ three-month legislative session is scheduled to end Saturday. Because the state constitution bans consideration of money bills within the final five days of any session, legislators could extend the session to give themselves more time to reach a budget deal and pass dozens of bills to fund government. Or, they could end the session without a budget, which would force Barbour to call them back to the Capitol before July 1.
The House tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to pass a session-extending resolution, which needed a two-thirds majority, or 82 votes, to pass. It got only 68. The other 54 House members voted against it.
Barbour said in a statement Tuesday that House leaders want to spend more money during fiscal 2102 while saying they’d leave more in reserves than either he or the Senate would leave.
“That’s ridiculous,” Barbour said. “Anybody who can do simple math knows that if you spend more out of a finite amount of money, you necessarily save less.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, said senators and Barbour are “holding fast on fiscal conservative principles.”
Associated Press writer Shelia Byrd contributed to this report.