State Sen. Charlie Ross, R-Brandon, told members of Meridian's Rotary Club on Monday that the state was facing two major obstacles when Gov. Haley Barbour took office in 2004.

They were, Ross said, lack of tort and budget reform. Ross, who plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2007, said he led the charge in drafting the state's tort reform bill, now viewed by other states as model legislation.

As for the budget, "we were $700 million in the hole," he said. "Our total budget revenue was about $3.5 billion, and we were spending about $700 million more than that. Those are huge numbers and they are hard to comprehend, but that is what we were doing."

Ross said the state's budget is now in balance and there is light at the end of the tunnel. He said the budget is 1.7 percent smaller than last year's.

"That is all it took to get our house in order," Ross said. "We never had a revenue problem; we had a spending problem."

Then came Hurricane Katrina.

Ross said the Legislature must be prepared to match federal funds for the hurricane-ravaged Coast. But he believes the state's future is bright despite the devastation.

In an interview before Monday's luncheon, Ross said if elected lieutenant governor, he will focus on Katrina recovery, economic development and streamlining the state's education system.

Ross said he would like to reduce the administrative bureaucracy in schools, and he would like to see a procedure to allow non-education majors to teach in public schools.

"There are a lot of very talented people out there with a lot of expertise who might be willing to go into our school system," Ross said. "I also believe that it is important that money be directed to the classroom rather than administration."

Ross said that while administration is important, it is in the classroom where the rubber hits the road.

The lieutenant governor's seat is being vacated by Amy Tuck, who by law cannot seek a third term.

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