Budget negotiators say final details being hammered out

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Legislative budget negotiators, without getting specific, said Friday afternoon there are no major differences remaining as they work to hammer out a final compromise on a budget for state governmental agencies, universities and community colleges and for local school districts.

“I wouldn’t point at one singular budget item… where the House and the Senate have a major disagreement,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale. House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, echoed similar comments.

Clarke said at issue now is developing “some framework of how the budget is pulled together” before tonight’s deadline for key House and Senate negotiators to reach agreement to fund what is essentially a $6 billion state budget that is funded primarily through various sources of state revenue.

Clarke said agreement has been reached on most special fund agencies, which make the total state budget about $19 billion. Special fund agencies are those funded by a specific fee or tax, such as a gasoline tax for the Department of Transportation or a fee on barbers for their regulatory agency or by federal funds. It is traditionally easier to reach agreement on special fund agencies since they are funded through specific sources and there is little discretion in how those funds are appropriated.

Clarke said before the negotiators can end the process they must agree on some essentials, such as the size of a deficit appropriation for the Division of Medicaid for the current fiscal year and the amount of items that are one-time expenses that can be funded with nonrecurring funds.

The legislative leadership has stated as a goal not to use any one-time money to fund recurring expenses in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

When those details are worked out, Clarke said negotiators, who have been working behind closed doors, can reach agreement on such items as the size of a teacher pay raise and whether to provide additional funds to the local school districts, as the majority of the Senate has stated it wants to do.

Clarke said it essentially has been agreed to that $6.9 million will be appropriated to pay for the training of about 60 new state troopers to address a shortage statewide of about 150.

And he said it is “absolutely” possible that money might be appropriated to provide a pay raise to some state employees. He said what might be possible is an increase for less than 5,000 state employees who earn less than $30,000 per year and have not had a raise in four years. He said what is being considered is a $1,000 across-the-board increase for that group.

But Clarke stressed that there might not be enough funds to accomplish some of their goals.

Legislative negotiators also must reach agreement by tonight on revenue or tax proposals and bond bills to finance long-term construction projects.

The full House and Senate are slated to begin taking up the more than 100 bills that fund state government an Sunday afternoon.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com