OPINION: Remember, 2011 Mississippi budget battle started this month

When the state budget process starts to bog down over Medicaid or education funding next spring during the 2010 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature, remember that the process officially started on Sept. 21, 2009.
That’s when the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Legislative Budget Office will formally begin their annual series of hearings with all state elected officials, major state agency heads and those who collect and distribute state revenues.

Long meetings
Beginning Sept. 21, the JLBC must also hear from the officials representatives of the state Personnel Board, the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, State Fiscal Officer Kevin Upchurch and his staff at the Department of Finance and Administration, the leaders of the Public Employees Retirement System, the leadership of all state public education from K-12 to community colleges to the state’s universities and colleges.
Also appearing before the JLBC will be the State Tax Commission, the economic developers at the Mississippi Development Authority and Dr. Phil Pepper, the state economist.
Who will be participating in the state’s legislative budget hearings? The chairman of the JLBC is either the lieutenant governor or the speaker of the House. For FY 2011, the chairman will be Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.
Committee members include: House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi; Sen. Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport; Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo; Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl; Sen. Terry C. Burton, R-Newton; Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson; Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona; Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose; Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg; Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson; Rep. George Flaggs, D-VIcksburg; Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville; and Rep. Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian.
Tedious process
For their part, state elected officials, state agency heads and others who must come hat-in-hand to the Legislature for funding and therefore are subject to the JLBC hearing process face a tedious process long before the meetings begin.
First, they must master the 25-page instruction sheet as to the correct form for their budget request submissions. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Then, after 16 copies of the proposed budget are submitted to LBO and three more copies to DFA, the hearing process commences.
All that transpires before the gavel sounds for the first day of the 2010 regular session in January. All that work must be done before the annual political battles begin between the Legislature, the governor, the lobbyists, the special interests and the media gets underway.
But next spring, when someone in government complains about running out of time to produce a state budget, ask them: “Haven’t you been working on this since Sept. 21 of last year?”

Contact columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961–7084 or e–mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

Sid Salter