Mississippi budget negotiators close to final product

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Negotiators at the Mississippi Capitol said Friday that they were close to agreeing on a $5.6 billion state budget for the year that begins July 1.

House and Senate leaders were trying to work out some final details, and they were hoping to file final budget proposals by Friday evening. That would be a full day ahead of the Saturday evening deadline to file the final version of 104 budget bills, covering everything from education to public health to prisons.

“At this point, we’re cleaning up some small items,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale. “It’s amazing. Every hour, something new pops up.”

The full 122-member House and 52-member Senate could spend most of Saturday considering budget bills.

“I think on the appropriations side, we’re going to be ready to rock ‘n’ roll in the morning,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said Friday.

Negotiators said spending for elementary and secondary schools will be slightly higher in the coming year than in the current year, but most of the additional money will be to cover the anticipated increase in school employees’ portion of the state retirement system.

Even with the increase in school funding, the budget will fall more than $250 million short of full funding under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. MAEP was put into state law in 1997 and is a complex formula designed to give each school district enough money to meet midlevel academic standards, providing extra money for districts with higher percentages of poor students. The formula has been fully funded only twice, in the election-year legislative sessions of 2003 and 2007.

Separate groups of negotiators were still discussing revenue bills on Friday, including proposals to issue bonds to finance repairs and renovations to some state-owned buildings. A proposal to give a financial break to businesses that pay the inventory tax was also unresolved.

Monday is the deadline for lawmakers to approve the final versions of appropriations and revenue bills.

It’s possible the two chambers will spend at least a few hours working at the Capitol on Sunday.