Bryant’s budget ups spending 4.8 percent

BRYANT

BRYANT

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant is proposing an increase of 4.8 percent, or $282.5 million, in state spending in his budget proposal.

The new spending will be directed primarily at universities and community colleges, health care and public safety.

Bryant released his budget recommendation for the 2014 Legislature during a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol.

The first-term Republican governor said his budget recommendation “addresses state priorities with three guiding principles in mind – spending prudently, saving for the future and prioritizing the core functions of state government.”

While the $6.1 billion budget proposal represents an increase in state spending, Bryant pointed out that he uses no one-time money to balance his budget. Plus, he projects that by the end of the 2015 fiscal year in June 2015 there will be about $200 million in the state’s rainy day fund – about half the statutory limit.

The new money for the additional spending is coming from revenue growth that has exceeded 5 percent annually for the past two years.

Bryant sets aside $86 million to establish a fund to help with repairs for local schools, community college and university campuses and other state buildings.

He said the fund will offset the recent practice of issuing bonds that are paid off over many years with interest to do routine repairs.

In the governor’s proposal, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program that provides the state’s share of the basics of operating local school districts is level funded – about $285 million short of full funding. He recommends $6 million for pre-K programs, the same level as in the current budget.

He does recommend an additional $22 million in education spending for specified projects such as programs to ensure children are reading on grade level before exiting the third grade.

Legislative leaders will release their budget recommendation in the coming weeks.

Bryant said his goals to eliminate the use of one-time money to fund recurring expenses and to increase the size of the rainy day fund at least partially address the concerns of Fitch rating agency that recently downgraded the state’s bond rating to a negative outlook.

While the governor reiterated his opposition to expanding Medicaid, as is allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act, he is recommending the expenditure of $8 million to expand the number of and services of the community health centers.

Bryant said the majority of the patients treated in the centers have an income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and many have no insurance.

“This expansion will offer more Mississippians more access to primary care services,” Bryant said. He added that the centers, with longer hours of operation, will reduce the instances of people with no insurance seeking care in hospital emergency rooms.

“It will reduce the amount of uncompensated care for the hospitals,” he said.

The state has 21 community health centers that operate in 165 locations across the state.

Universities would get an additional $34.8 million, or 5.5 percent, under the governor’s recommendation while community colleges would get an increase of $17 million, or 6.9 percent.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com