Gov. Phil Bryant’s 2015 fiscal year proposal would increase the state budget to $6.1 billion, based on stronger revenue estimates and inclusive of money from sources like the tobacco settlement payment and the education enhancement fun, but does it set the right priorities?
The governor presented his recommendation in a Wednesday news conference, and while it is indicative of his policy and political preferences for state spending, it is not binding on the Legislature, whose leadership will not make its budget recommendations known until December and not act on anything until the 2014 session convenes.
The 2015 budget is for the year beginning July 1, 2014. Mississippi’s budget year runs from July 1 to June 30. The state is in its 2014 budget cycle.
The new budget includes higher spending for universities, community colleges and some categories of health care, but Bryant’s proposal leaves the Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding level and $280 million below its mandate.
In the governor’s proposal, the MAEP, the basics of operating local school districts is level funded.
Community college funding includes increases:
• Recommends $17 million more, or a 6.9 percent increase, for community colleges.
• Universities would receive an additional $34 million, or 5.5 percent.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections is recommended for a total of $362 million, plus a $22.4 million deficit appropriation for FY 14. The department’s budget has soared steadily, in part because under-educated adults end up in prisons with greater frequency than fully educated citizens, the long-term outcome of inadequate educational attainment levels.
While the governor’s budget offers encouragement in the spending for some high-priority programs it does not move far enough on fully funding public education under MAEP, the law passed by the Legislature governing public school financial support.
Advocates for better education spending priorities fortunately have substantial time to make the case for reordering some of the governor’s proposals and, as needed, the proposal to be presented by the Legislative Budget Committee.