UPDATE: Miss. proposal ties agency funding to performance

JACKSON — A new government study says Mississippi should change its budget process to tie state funding to agency performance, which could cut money from failing programs, the lieutenant governor said Monday.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant appointed the Commission for a New Mississippi, which conducted the study released Monday. Among other things, the study recommends requiring agency leaders to show how productive their programs are to receive state dollars.

Bryant said the proposal will be presented to lawmakers when the Legislature convenes in January. He said the plan could eventually save state taxpayers about $250 million a year.

“I believe our current budget system is broken,” said Bryant. “We need to stop putting money into programs that are failing.”

Mississippi’s budget process begins when agencies make their funding requests to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in the fall.

Gov. Haley Barbour last month released his spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget committee will release its spending recommendations on Dec. 15. Both proposals are based on agency requests and the state’s estimated revenue collections.

The 172-member Legislature will vote on a final spending plan during next year’s session.

The commission has been at work for nearly a year, but Bryant said the panel didn’t identify any state programs that weren’t working. Even if the 2010 Legislature approves the plan, it couldn’t go into effect until the 2012 calendar year, he said.

The proposal has early support from a key Democratic House member. Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson, who’s a member of the budget committee, said he read a draft of the plan and was impressed by its long-range planning goals.

“We have a form of performance-based budgeting now, but in all honesty, most people don’t any attention to it,” Brown said.

The proposal calls for all agencies to create operational plans with specific goals, as well as the creation of a new joint performance review enforcement office. Under the plan, the Legislative Budget Office and the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee would be combined. Money would be allocated based on how well each agency met its goals.

The budget office keeps track of how much money each agency receives, and PEER is a legislative watchdog agency that conducts periodic reviews of state programs.

“We’re not going around putting the agencies out of business. We’re just holding them accountable,” said Robert Clark of Ebenezer, a former longtime legislator who was a member of the bipartisan commission.

Read more in the NEMS Daily Journal Tuesday.

Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press