House leader expects $100M less in funding

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said Wednesday he fears that the Legislature will have $100 million less to appropriate for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has called a meeting of the Legislative Budget Committee for Wednesday, when the panel is expected to lower the revenue projection for the upcoming fiscal year.
The revenue projection represents the amount of money available to appropriate.
In November, the Budget Committee and Gov. Haley Barbour agreed on a revenue estimate for the upcoming fiscal year of $4.56 billion, based on the recommendations of the state’s financial experts.
But as state tax collections have continued to fall below projections, the financial experts are expected to recommend to the Budget Committee that the estimate be lowered.
Historically, the Budget Committee, which includes Bryant, House Speaker Billy McCoy and other legislative leaders, has followed the recommendation of the experts.
“I am guessing, and hopefully I am wrong,” said Stringer, “but we will probably come back with $100 million less.”
The state is on the verge of the third consecutive year in which revenue collections were less than the previous year.
Only one other time in recent memory have collections for one year been less than the previous year – in 2001-02.
A reduced revenue projection will make a tough budgeting process even more difficult.
Both Stringer and his counterpart in the Senate, Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, are in the process of passing their chamber’s version of the state budget.
The House finished that process Wednesday. The Senate could do the same as early as today.
“We are finishing our budget a week early so we can get out a week early,” Stringer said on the House floor.
McCoy agreed, saying, “We are going to work with the Senate to try to get out as quickly as we can. It may be wishful thinking.”
The difficult budgeting work is still ahead. After the two chambers pass their versions of the budget, House and Senate leaders will end up in conference where they will try to hammer out a final budget agreement.
On Wednesday, during debate of the budget on the House floor, Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, succeeded in passing an amendment to require state agencies to post on a state Web site various budgetary items, such as how they spend their funds and how much they are spending to contract with private groups.
The budget passed by the House also would require the state jet to be sold. The state still would have other aircraft, but not a jet.