By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant said his budget proposal unveiled Wednesday helps rebuild the state’s reserve funds, focuses on education priorities and enacts minimal 1.5 percent cuts for most agencies.
“We are continuing to save and budget conservatively, finding more efficiencies and relying on less one-time money to fund recurring expenses,” Bryant said. adding that his proposal funds the state’s “highest priorities, investing in our children … protecting public safety, continuing our economic development efforts and ensuring the basic function of critical government systems.”
The Republican governor said his proposal provides level funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program at $2.03 billion and an additional $21 million for “education priorities,” such as continuing an early childhood education pilot program, known as Building Blocks, that has been privately funded in recent years, and enacting a pilot merit teacher pay program in four school districts.
Overall, Bryant’s proposal increases state funding by 4.7 percent, or $259.8 million, to $5.81 billion. That includes some deficit funding for the current year and some one-time expenditures on such items as finishing the state’s Wireless Integrated Network, which helps ensure communication during natural disasters.
Bryant’s overall budget for the fiscal year which starts July 1, excluding deficit appropriations and one-time expenditures, such as on the wireless network, is $5.72 billion – or an increase of 3.1 percent, or $169.6 million.
Bryant is required by law to submit a budget prior to the legislative session. Legislative leaders will unveil their own plan next month.
“I commend the governor for coming forward with a conservative budget … his recommendations provide a great starting point for us to begin crafting a responsible budget,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton.
“We need to do a better job for education,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, of the Bryant proposal. “We are $260 million short of full funding of education. Because of that local property taxes are going up across the state.
“Plus, tuition at the universities has gone up a huge amount of money.”
The governor’s proposal increases funding for universities and community colleges only $13.3 million, or 1.6 percent. Both entities have asked for significantly more, citing rising enrollment and uncompetitive faculty salaries. Bryant said he hoped revenue exceeds projections, making additional funds available for universities and community colleges.
The governor also would relieve small businesses from a state mandate that in June they pay 75 percent of their projected tax revenue for July. This would remove about $35 million in revenue.
Excluding education, public safety and a few other areas, Bryant cuts most agencies by 1.5 percent, “redirecting $15.4 million to other priorities.”
The budget provides a $29 million deficit appropriation for Corrections for the current fiscal year. It adds $8 million for a new trooper school for the Highway Patrol and purchase of new patrol cars; $42 million to meet the mandates of a lawsuit against the state’s foster care system; and $1 million to the state crime lab.