Legislators hope to pass $5.56B budget plan today

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Legislature was expected to start voting on the budget today in anticipation of House and Senate leaders hammering out a final agreement late Friday night on a $5.56-billion plan to fund state government.
House and Senate budget leaders worked late to reach an agreement on a few final details. The budget in negotiations now is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Earlier Friday, Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said leaders from the two chambers were working well together.
“We are really close on everything,” he said. “We are really just clearing up some small details.”
When asked when the compromise proposals would be ready for the two chambers to take up, House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said, “I think on the appropriations side we will be able to rock-n-roll in the morning.”
The budget process has been less contentious as Republicans lead both chambers for the first time since the late 1800s. In recent years, with Democrats in charge of the House and Republicans controlling the Senate, negotiations were more difficult, especially on education funding.
Even many Democrats who have fought for additional funding for education in recent years have said this might be a year to simply catch up and focus on level funding.
House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said funding for education would be about $20 million above level funding. That amount will not pay the anticipated increase of $24 million to fully fund the public employee pension plan for teachers and other education personnel.
“In light of where we are financially, I have not heard any gnashing of teeth,” Moore said. “They (local school districts) are not getting slashed and burned.”
Frierson said universities will be close to level funding minus their increase in retirement costs while community colleges would be about at level funding, including retirements costs.
All, though, stressed much was still in a state of flux late Friday.
Sources indicated the appropriations bill for kindergarten through 12th grade education would include $500,000 to study the Mississippi Adequate Education Formula, which is the mechanism used to provide state funds to local school districts.
The formula is expected to be about $250 million short of full funding for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. It has only been fully funded twice since its full enactment in 2002.
A study of the formula last decade revealed that it did not provide a proper funding level to local districts when fully funded.
Frierson said many other agencies will see their budgets cut for the upcoming year.
The plan is to carry forward about $200 million in reserve funds. Plus, Frierson said the budget proposal will reduce the use of one-time funds to pay for recurring expenses from about $590 million to about $430 million. The budget for the current year is $5.51 billion.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com