State agencies looking for $1.34B more

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – State agency heads are requesting an additional $1.34 billion in funds for the next budget year, which begins July 1.
Those funding requests are to the 14 members who comprise the Legislative Budget Committee. Starting Monday, the committee, which is chaired this year by Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and includes Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, will meet for a week with many of the agency heads who made the requests.
Later this fall, the 14 legislative leaders who make up the Budget Committee will meet with Gov. Phil Bryant to adopt an official revenue estimate, representing the amount of revenue expected to be collected during the next fiscal year and representing the amount of money available to appropriate.
Then before the 2013 session begins, both the governor and the Budget Committee are tasked by state law with developing budget proposals. Those proposals will at least be considered by the full Legislature when it meets next year to develop a budget.
“The hearings will give the Legislative Budget Committee a snapshot of state agencies’ list of priorities, but my hope is agency heads will use this as an opportunity to make recommendations on actions the Legislature may take to save money in their department,” Reeves said recently.
The Republican lieutenant governor said he understands that state law requires the Mississippi Board of Education to inform the Budget Committee of the amount of funds needed to fully fund the Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of funding to the local school districts. He said he also understands that the Community College Board is compelled to inform the legislative leaders of the amount of money needed to reach mid-level funding for the 15 two-year schools.
State law requires community colleges to be funded per student at a mid-level between what the state’s smaller universities receive per student and what local school districts get. Yet, since the mid-point law was put in place last decade, the community colleges have not receive that level of funding.
And since the Adequate Education Program was enacted in 2002, it has been fully funded only twice. For the current year the Adequate Education Program is more than $260 million short of full funding.
Reeves said he anticipates many agencies being cut this year to focus on priorities like education even though state revenue is growing after an unprecedented drop in tax collections when the recession hit in 2008. Unless there is another major economic downturn, it is likely state revenue collections will return to the level they were in 2008 before the economy soured.
Still, Reeves said the Legislature will have to deal with replacing one-time funds and federal funds that were expended in recent years to prop up the state budget during the economic downturn.
For the current fiscal year, the general fund budget totaled $5.54 billion, including more than $500 million from one-time funds. In some instances, it is misleading to call the funds one-time since they could be available again for the 2013 Legislature, but it will take a change in law to use them.
For instance, the state gets a payment totaling about $100 million each year as a result of a lawsuit it settled with tobacco companies in the 1990s. To use that money for the general fund each year, as has been done in recent years, the Legislature must change the law to direct the money to the general fund.
The budget for everything from local school districts to universities and colleges to state parks to health care will be examined in the coming week.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com