OUR OPINION: Revenue stream appears to be increase-friendly

By NEMS Daily Journal

The annual spring rite of recounting the money in the Mississippi Legislature rises every day in the meter measuring what’s left to do in the 2013 session, and if the revenue estimate’s revised upward, important programs could be aided.
Speaker Philip Gunn, like most senior legislators, is guarded in what he will say on the record, but clearly has not said it’s unlikely, and his peer in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, is even more reticent but not negative.
A revised estimate can go up or down, and in some years falling tax collections have led to spending reductions. Many legislators, however, understand the need for making stronger commitments to policy spending like public education, but hold off until evidence suggests higher-than-predicted collections, as is the case so far in the 2013 budget year and increasingly possible for the 2014 budget year, starting July 1.
The revision must be set before adjournment, scheduled for April 7, less than three weeks ahead.
Some legislators like 30-year Senate veteran Hob Bryan, D-Amory, believe there’s already plenty of revenue for strengthening items like schools but that it’s been unwisely appropriated. Bryan said a higher estimate for the 2013-2014 cycle almost certainly would prove persuasive for stronger funding, especially for public education.
Bryan noted accurately that many legislators hold their own priorities, hoping for extra revenue to add more to the programs in which they have a special interest.
A breakout of the individual revenue stream does not show uniform strength, but important categories like sales taxes and individual income tax are running ahead of the estimates made in spring 2012. Casino taxes and corporate income taxes are below projections.
Tax collections for 2013 started July 1, 2012 and continue through June 30. The state fiscal year begins July 1. So far, collections are $132 million above projections, including $35.2 million from settlement sums negotiated by Attorney General Jim Hood. That amount is not the same kind of revenue but it is counted as income.
The 2014 state budget remains under negotiation between the House and the Senate. The strength of tax collections suggests closing the gap between the Senate and House versions will make agreement much easier.