House finishes appropriation and revenue bills

Last week, the House took up its share of appropriations and revenue bills. Up until this point, our bills have dealt mainly with policy. The focus now shifts, at least temporarily, to the budget. The entire state budget consists of scores of individual appropriations bills. Each appropriation bill spells out the funding level for a specific agency for the upcoming fiscal year. During this week, half of the bills that make up the budget begin in the House, and the other half begin in the Senate. The House and Senate will each pass their slate of appropriations bills, and then the two sides will exchange bills. After they pass the other side’s bills, all of the bills then go to conference for final negotiations. Because this is a longer legislative session than usual, final budget negotiations will happen during the latter part of March.

Revenues have been lagging since the fiscal year began on July 1, 2016. Three rounds of mid-year budget cuts have left most budget writers nervous about estimating revenue for the next fiscal year. This is important as we await the March meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. At this meeting, the committee will adopt a new revenue estimate. The revenue estimate is how much money the state expects to take in during a fiscal year and therefore dictates how much the state can spend on things like education, bridge repairs, etc.

Another factor that might hinder available revenue is House and Senate leadership’s desire to reinstitute the 2% set aside. Since the days of Governor Kirk Fordice, the Legislature attempts to only spend 98% of available revenue. 1% is put in the Rainy Day Fund, and 1% is put in the Capital Expense Fund for one-time expenses. This has not been the case in recent budget years. The reason for this is that the Rainy Day Fund was filled, allowing lawmakers to spend all available revenue. At this point in the session, I believe there is agreement on not appropriating 100% of available revenue, but it’s unclear on whether that means setting 1% or 2% aside.

One common refrain repeated last week was the phrase “This appropriation comes in at LBR.” “LBR” stands for Legislative Budget Recommendation. This recommendation comes from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) in early December, before the session begins. The JLBC, composed of seven House members and seven senators, approves spending recommendations for each agency based on hearings, deliberations and most importantly, a revenue estimate. Most appropriation bills in the session start off at the LBR level. However, many will move from this amount as the budget is settled in conference, depending on revenue, prioritization and political maneuvering.

Typically, LBR is a conservative estimate. However, revenue continues to fall short of projection in this fiscal year. If this trend continues (and it appears it will, as revenue was $40 million short of projection for the month of February as of February 27), even the conservative LBR level might not be achievable.

Some of the bills that everyone will be watching during this session include:
HB 1502 – K-12 education funding bill
HB 1509 – MDOT transportation funding bill
HB 1510 – Division of Medicaid funding bill
HB 1511 – Department of Health funding bill
HB 1512 – Department of Human Services funding bill
HB 1513 – Department of Child Protective Services funding bill

In the next few weeks, we will receive the Senate appropriations bills. The House will change some part of these bills in order to send them back to the Senate and then on to conference.

Please pray for me and the other legislators as we make decisions that will affect all Mississippians. Please contact me if I can help you, or if you have a question/comment concerning any legislation. You may email me at jsteverson@house.ms.gov, call me at 662.837.0194 or message me on Twitter and Facebook. I thank you for allowing me the honor to represent you in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Jody Steverson (R-Ripley) is State Representative for House District 4, representing Tippah and Alcorn counties. He serves as Vice Chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee and is also a member of the Ways & Means, Energy, Insurance, Transportation, Constitution and University & Colleges committees.

About Tina Meadows

Tina Campbell Meadows is a life-long resident of Tippah County with 20 years experience in journalism and graphic design. Meadows has been a member of the Southern Sentinel staff since June 2000.