By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The top appropriators for the House and Senate said late Wednesday they had essentially reached a budget deal.
“We are there except for one or two small items,” said House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.
His counterpart in the Senate, Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said in a separate interview, “There are two or three big items we are still working on. We have been working hard.”
Frierson said the areas where they are still trying to decide on a funding level are on wireless communications and additional funds for higher education, primarily to deal with tornado damage at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
Frierson said he and Clarke agreed to provide $23 million more for kindergarten- through 12th- grade education than was approved earlier this session by either the House or the Senate.
He said he hopes those funds will be used to pay for “the third grade reading gate,” which is a proposal to have children reading on grade level before leaving the third grade, and for other education proposals. But he said he wanted to allow the chairs of the Education Committee to have input on how to divvy up those funds.
The budget negotiators face a Saturday night deadline to reach a deal on the more than 100 bills that fund the various agencies of state government. The total state general fund will be about $5.6 billion.
Frierson said ideally agreement on all those budget bills could be reached by Friday and the full membership could start voting on them Saturday morning. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves had told members earlier to anticipate working on both Saturday and Easter in order to meet constitutionally mandated deadlines.
Various agencies, including education, are still trying to recover from cuts made in recent years to deal with an unprecedented drop in state revenue collections. While revenue collections have rebounded to a large extent, numerous agencies including mental health, education and corrections, said they dealing with significant shortfalls that could result in layoffs.