Legislature faces budget deadline today

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Legislature will attempt today to put the finishing touches on a budget to fund state government, local school districts and universities and community colleges.

If legislators are not successful in finishing their budget work today, the leadership will have to garner a two-thirds majority to approve a resolution to extend the session to meet the constitutional mandate that appropriations bills cannot be passed during the final five days of the session.

But the leadership remained optimistic that they will pass today, in the full House and Senate, the budget deal agreed to by the leadership this past weekend.

While a few details are being finalized, House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said the leadership’s budget deal is structurally sound, fills the state’s rainy day funds, gives pay raises to teachers and lower-paid state employees and frees up money to tackle other important issues in the coming years.

“We have a structurally balanced budget,” he said. “We ought to be shooting fireworks.”

The $6 billion budget deal under consideration by the Legislature is more than $200 million above what was appropriated in the 2013 session.

Frierson expressed frustration that some House Democrats complained during debate on the House floor about the pay raise for state employees. The debate came as both the House and Senate took up about 50 of the more than 100 bills that fund state government. The plan is to take up the others today, as well as bond bills to fund long-term construction projects and economic development projects, such as $20 million for the modernization of Cooper Tire.

Under the budget deal, state employees earning less than $30,000 who have not had a raise in four years will get a $1,000 across-the-board pay raise, starting in the next fiscal year on July 1. Frierson said restrictive language was removed from the budget bills so that employees earning more than $30,000 who have not had a raise in four years can receive an increase of up to 5 percent at the discretion of agency directors.

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who had advocated for an across-the-board pay raise for all state employees, said the proposal in the budget deal was not fair. Brown asked if it was fair that an employee earning $32,000 would not get a raise.

“I am disappointed for state employees,” he said.

Frierson said the goal was to give raises, to the employees “who mop the floors and change the bed pans … My liberal friends are complaining about it.”

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, also complained about the funding level for the Adequate Education Program that funds local school districts. The funding formula has been underfunded $1.2 billion since 2008.

Earlier this session Bryan was successful in passing an amendment on the Senate floor to add $60 million to the program. But in negotiations amongst the leadership, that increased was whittled to $10 million, even though the state has had $250 million in revenue growth.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com