Budget recommendations get go-ahead

By BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Legislative leaders approved a budget recommendation Monday that is $64.7 million less than what was appropriated for the state’s general fund during the 2010 session.
The recommendation, approved without a dissenting vote by the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee, will be viewed as a blueprint when the full Legislature begins work in January on a budget for the fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Reaching a final agreement during the 2011 session “will involve much intense work,” said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who presides over the Budget Committee.
The budget proposal keeps funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the bulk of state funding to local school districts, at the same level that was appropriated in the 2010 session. That is about $250 million short of full funding as prescribed under state law.
The recommendation cuts universities by $14.8 million, or 2.1 percent, while community colleges are trimmed $2.8 million, or 1.25 percent.
Most state agencies were cut between 1 and 7 percent. If approved, these cuts would be on top of double-digit reductions most agencies have absorbed during the past two years.
State revenue is growing for the first time in two years, but budget leaders face a challenge in replacing about $700 million in non-recurring funds that were used during the 2010 Legislature to plug budget holes.
The Budget Committee members have identified other sources of one-time money to help fund the upcoming budget, including the rainy day and tobacco trust funds.
Despite the unanimous vote Monday, no one was discounting the likelihood of a prolonged budget fight. Included in Monday’s agreement were footnoted items that were not funded in the recommendation, but are viewed to be priorities that members will try to fund during the session that begins in January.
“The footnotes represent about $200 million,” said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg. “The footnotes, in my opinion, will guarantee a tax increase on the local level if we don’t fund them.”
Those items include money for community mental health centers, a new Highway Patrol trooper class, local governments to hold down property taxes and funding other aspects of state government.
The total general fund budget is $5.4 billion. It provides most of the state support to areas such as education, mental health, public safety and Medicaid.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.