/It could have been a lot worse’ Legislative leaders say budget leaves most state agencies on solid footing

It could have been a lot worse’ Legislative leaders say budget leaves most state agencies on solid footing

The Legislature approved the budget in late June and early juillet. It provides $113.5million for state agencies, which is 1.8% less than the amount they received the previous fiscal year. July 1 marked the beginning of the new budget year. Legislative leaders had been expecting deeper cuts due to the economic slowdown caused COVID-19. Officials believed that the shutdown would lead to large cuts in state tax collections. The coronavirus shutdown so far has not led to any significant reductions in state revenue collection. In an earlier interview, John Read, R-Gautier House Appropriations Chair, stated that about half of the agencies would see a 5% reduction, while only 1% of them were affected and the rest saw a 3% decrease. “I’m grateful we ended up in this situation. It could have been worse,” said Briggs Hopson (R-Vicksburg), Senate Appropriations Chair. “I don’t know of any agency that would be forced to layoff employees due to cuts.” The current state support budget is $6.25 trillion. The state support budget is based primarily on general taxes such as income and retail items. This is the part of the budget that legislators have the greatest discretion to spend the money. $21.8 billion is the total state budget. This includes federal and special funds. These funds are usually more discretionary for the Legislature. The U.S. Congress has designated federal funds for specific areas, such as Medicaid and Temporary Aid for Needy Families. Fees or taxes are used to fund special agencies. Accounting professionals pay a fee to the agency that regulates their work. The Department of Transportation is the largest special fund agency. It is funded mainly through the 18.4 cent per gallon motor fuel tax. The state support agencies were reduced by $32.8 million, or 4.6%, while the universities saw a reduction of $14.9 million (or 6%) in funding. Kell Smith, spokesperson for the community college, stated that “We recognize the difficult decisions made by the Legislature when it wrote the budget, which was based on many unknowns at that time.” Smith said that the Legislature was grateful for the money allocated to the community colleges. He continued, “We are optimistic about being in a position to offer affordable education and training opportunities to many thousand of Mississippians without any reduction in services.” We are hopeful that we won’t experience any mid-year reductions which could make it difficult to make tough decisions at that time.” Midyear cuts would occur if the revenue received is less than the projection used in constructing the budget. The $1.2 million in state funds was cut to the state health department that has been struggling with coronavirus. Federal and special funds make up the majority of funding for the health department. Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer, stated that the agency has most of the federal funds available to handle the coronavirus. However, other areas of the agency’s work could be affected by the cuts. Dobbs stated that the cuts will make it difficult to carry out many of the agency’s core non-coronavirus functions such as providing treatment for tuberculosis and combating sexually transmitted disease. He said, “We know it’s a difficult budget year ..,”.” “We depend on that money to be in the community and to take care of the gaps in the health system for those who are most vulnerable…We will keep trying to fulfill our mission.” An increase in federal funding made it possible to cut $32.1 million, or 3.4%, in state funding. Parts of the state government are still unfunded almost a month after the new budget year started. Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed large amounts of the $2.5B education budget. The amount was reduced $60.7 million. Reeves issued a partial veto as the Legislature had not funded a program that would provide bonuses for teachers and faculty from top-performing and improving schools. The Legislature also left without funding the Department of Marine Resources. This department provides oversight and law enforcement services in the Gulf of Mexico. DMR was denied funding due to disagreements between Senate and House leaders about how much oversight the Legislature will have over federal funds the agency receives. Marine Resources only receives about $1 million in state funding. It also depends on federal and special money for most of its funds. Marine Resources continues to provide core services but it is unclear how long this can continue. Reeves stated that K-12 schools can continue operating because they are constitutional functions and must receive state funding, regardless of what the Legislature does. It is unclear if the fact that no money has been appropriated to school districts due to Reeves’ veto will affect the amount of August’s state funding. Reeves stated that he plans to call lawmakers back in special session to discuss those budgets. He said that he doesn’t want to wait, as more than 30 lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 in the month of July 1, shortly after they left Capitol. He stated that he would most likely have brought the Legislature back had it not been for the COVID-19 epidemic. He said, “It is just not safe for that to happen.”