By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Legislative leaders voted Tuesday to increase the revenue estimate for this fiscal year and the next, resulting in the possibility of an additional $228 million to appropriate during the current session.
Democrats, in a minority in the state House and Senate for the first time since the 1800s, said the money should be used to ensure education isn’t cut and to prevent deep cuts in public health agencies.
The 14-member Legislative Budget Committee, chaired by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, met Tuesday morning and increased the revenue estimate $99.9 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and $128.6 million for the next fiscal year.
The increase was recommend to the legislative leaders by the five state financial experts who make up what is commonly referred to as the revenue estimating committee.
State Economist Darrin Webb, speaking for the group, said the new revenue estimate is conservative, despite the fact tax collections have improved significantly in recent months. Reeves pointed out revenue growth through the first eight months of the fiscal year has been 4.8 percent over the past fiscal year, yet the revised revenue estimate is for only 3.5 percent growth.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the revised estimate is for growth of 1.3 percent, totaling $4.82 billion in general fund tax collections.
The revenue estimate is important because it represents the amount of money available for the Legislature to appropriate. Even with the increased revenue, Reeves said it would be a tough budget year and cuts will have to be made.
“This revision is a measured attempt to recognize that we are seeing some economic growth in our state,” Reeves said. “However, we still won’t see significant growth over the next several years and must remain cautious in our spending.”
House Democrats, during a news conference, said the increased revenue estimate would be enough to prevent the cuts Gov. Phil Bryant has proposed in his budget.
They said Bryant’s budget would:
* Cut education $100 million, including a $73 million cut to local school districts.
* Cut health care $30 million.
* Slash library funding by 15 percent.
“There is enough money available this year to leave the rainy day fund alone and to level fund education and to not have devastating cuts to health care and public libraries,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.
Some members of the Budget Committee expressed concerns about the revised estimate, saying they feared increased gas prices might slow the economy. Webb told them the revised estimate factored in a possible slowdown.
No member voted against raising the estimate.