/Election year budget will see a $190 million jump in funding after years of cuts or little growth

Election year budget will see a $190 million jump in funding after years of cuts or little growth

The 2019 session budgeting process was concluded by legislators on Thursday and Friday. They passed a $6.35 billion state-support budget with very little debate and very few questions. However, some members tried unsuccessfully to get additional funding for teacher pay increases. Philip Gunn (Republican House Speaker), said that conservative planning in recent years, which resulted in cuts, allowed for a significant increase in spending for fiscal year 2019. These increases will be made as lawmakers campaign for re-election in the November election. Gunn stated, “I thought that we had a very strong budget this year.” Gunn stated that he didn’t believe any agency was affected by cuts or suffered major reductions. Sen. Hob Bryan (D-Amory) said that all tax cuts in recent years have resulted in a decrease in state revenue of over $700 million. This will make it difficult to fund state government properly and provide sufficient raises for state employees who are underpaid. He said, “We are at the peak of economic cycles, but we don’t still have enough money to fix or fund our roads and schools because all the tax cuts.” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves stated that the budget was fiscally prudent, but that “we were able” to fund most of its priorities. However, there was some grumbling within the House about the size of the raise for state employees. For some 26,000 state employees, the Legislature allocated $12 million. A little over $4 million was also appropriated to pay faculty and staff at universities, and just $1 million to employees at the 15 community colleges. Gunn stated that the three-year lookback will determine which state employees will get a 3 percent increase. Employees who have not received a raise for three years will get the full 3 percentage, while those who have received a 2 percent increase in the same time period would only receive a 1 percent increase. Based on the three year look back process, university and community college employees will be eligible for a two percent increase. Although the budget increase for 2020 will be effective July 1, it is still significantly less than the $6.5 million allocated for fiscal 2017. This was before slow revenue collection results in two years of budget cuts. The long wait times at drivers license bureaus was one area that caused concern as the leadership approved the budget. Senator David Blount (D-Jackson) stated that every senator had received calls from unhappy constituents who had to wait long to renew or obtain a license. Blount stated that the chaos of the bureaus “weakens people’s confidence in government when we see such dysfunction.” He claimed that Hinds, the largest county in the state, didn’t have a functioning bureau. Buck Clarke (R-Hollanddale), Senate Appropriations Chair, stated that $3.2 million would be added to the Department of Public Safety’s budget to address the problem. Clarke stated, “I am hopeful that they will solve the problem.” The budget saw substantial increases, including $60 million for the state’s pension program, $58 million for the teacher raise and funds for the state’s health care program. The budget also included significant increases of $14.2million for Medicaid and $15.7million or 7 percent to Child Protection Services, which were intended to address problems in the state’s foster-care system. Based on preliminary figures, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (which provides basic support for local school districts) was underfunded by approximately $250 million. Since 2008, it has been less than $2 billion. The state support budget, which costs $6.3 billion, was the main focus of much of the budget work. However, the total budget is approximately $20 billion. This includes federal funds as well as what is known to be special funds, taxes and fees, which are used to fund specific agencies. The so-called state budget is funded primarily through general taxes, such as those on retail items or personal income. This is where the Legislature has the greatest discretion when it comes to how to allocate funds.