State budget: Pay raise included for teachers, others

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Teachers will get a $1,500 pay raise during the 2014-15 school year and the lower-paid state employees will get a $1,000 salary increase under the budget deal reached between House and Senate budget negotiators.

At the same time, House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said Saturday that under the deal the state’s rainy day fund will be filled to its statutory limit of more than $400 million.

Frierson said there are still minor details that might change. But unless a major disagreement surfaces, the full membership could vote on the deal by at least Monday, meaning the legislative session still would be on track to end no later than next weekend.

But Saturday’s actions proved there are still many pitfalls to finishing the process. Frierson announced via Twitter late Friday night a deal had been reached to fund the $6 billion general fund budget. But most of Saturday was spent “dealing with fires,” making it difficult to put the agreement in legislation for the full membership to vote on, according to Frierson.

Because of that, the more than 100 bills that fund state government will not be ready for members to vote on when the House and Senate first convene this afternoon. It is a possible that they could be voted on later today, but most likely it will be Monday before members vote on the budget proposal put together by House and Senate leaders.

On Saturday, details of the proposal still were sketchy.

But Frierson and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both said they were proud the deal accomplishes their goal of prioritizing education, health care and public safety. Frierson said they were able to accomplish those goals of funding priority items while setting money aside because of tough budget decisions made the past two years, resulting in savings, and “we have been lucky to have (revenue) growth of 15 percent in three years. And I would rather be lucky than good.”

Besides funding priorities, Reeves said for “the first time in a long, long, long time Mississippi will only spend recurring revenue on recurring expenses.”

While the budget deal may not spend nonrecurring funds on recurring expenses, it does spend 100 percent of the expected revenue collections instead of setting aside 2 percent, which is what the law normally dictates.

Overall, kindergarten through 12th-grade education will get an additional $70 million with $10 million going to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program to provide additional funds to the local school districts. Since 2008, MAEP has been underfunded by more than $1.2 billion.

Frierson said universities and community colleges also are getting more funds than last year.

Funding for Medicaid is up $100 million, when counting the deficit for the current fiscal year and increased funding for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Corrections will receive $40 million increased funding over this fiscal year and the next.

The Department of Public Safety also will see a significant increase – $6.9 million to train 60 new troopers, plus additional funds for the Crime Lab and for other equipment needs. Frierson said funds also are being increased to state drug courts that have proven a successful alternative in some instance to prison sentences for drug offenders.

The House and Senate have committed to a multiyear pay raise for teachers. The budget deal includes funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The size of any pay raise past the upcoming fiscal year is still to be negotiated by House and Senate leaders.

Frierson said the pay raise for state employees will be designated for those earning less than $30,000 who have not had an increase in four years.

While the general fund budget, where legislators have the most discretion in spending, is about $6 billion, the total state budget is about $19 billion, including special funds and federal funds. Special fund agencies are those funded by a specific fee or tax, such as a gasoline tax for the Department of Transportation or a fee on barbers for their regulatory agency.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com