By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Mississippi Legislature will have an additional $20.9 million to spend when it begins work in earnest on the state budget during the next two weeks.
The Legislative Budget Committee met Tuesday morning and raised the official estimate $6.5 million for the current fiscal year and $14.4 million for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
And additional money for the current fiscal year would be available to budget this session – if the Legislature chooses to use it.
The Budget Committee raised the estimate based on the consensus of its financial experts, including state Economist Darrin Webb and Treasurer Tate Reeves.
The estimate represents the amount of money available for the Legislature to appropriate on general fund agencies, such as education, Medicaid and public safety.
Webb, speaking for the experts, said he considered the increase in the estimate “more of a fine-tuning … than a substantive change.”
The group recommended increasing the estimate 0.2 percent to 0.9 percent growth for the current year to $4.54 billion. For the upcoming year, the group recommended increasing the estimate one-tenth of a percent to 1.4 percent, or $4.6 billion.
Webb told the committee, which includes Speaker Billy McCoy and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, that the economy continues to improve after a period that saw an unprecedented dip in state tax collections.
“However … we will not soon return to the strong growth of the past,” Webb said. “We appear to be in an environment in which growth will be well below historical average for quite some time.”
Webb said the experts were concerned about the rising fuel costs, but he expects gas costs “will diminish” in the coming months
Senate Appropriations Chair Doug Davis, R-Hernando, opposed the increase, saying he is still concerned about unemployment and other negative economic indicators.
“I am not comfortable raising it at all,” he said.
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour also said he disagreed with the committee’s vote.
“We must expect slow revenue growth over the next few years and reflect that in our spending,” Barbour said in a statement.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.