/Lawmakers end 2022 session with historic spending spree

Lawmakers end 2022 session with historic spending spree

The legislature spent $7.32 billion on a state support budget over a period of two days that ended late Tuesday night. This is 9.2% or $617 millions more than the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The Legislature also spent: House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) congratulated members after the 48-hour-long spending spree. He said it was a difficult session but that it had been “very rewarding”, that it had done amazing things for the citizens of the state, and that it had transformed the state. Lt. Governor. Delbert Hosemann, the Senate’s President, spoke out about the importance of making transformative changes with funds from the American Rescue Plan shortly after it was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2021. The Legislature appropriated all but $300 million of $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan funds during the 2022 session. The Legislature will be able to spend the remainder in the 2023 session. Hosemann stated that it is unlikely that the state will see additional federal dollars in their lifetime. Hosemann stated that it was crucial for the Legislature to develop a plan that would see the money go into the ground for future generations. Many of the multi-million dollar sewer and water problems in Mississippi are a problem that has serious economic, health, and safety consequences. Hosemann said that these funds would help communities to address these issues, resulting in better quality of living for their citizens. In terms of money available, the Legislature was blessed with almost a perfect storm. The state’s revenue collection has soared to new heights due to an estimated $35 billion of federal funds being channeled into Mississippi to combat the pandemic. This surplus, in addition to ARPA funds, is approximately $1.1 billion. The Legislature used about $900 million of these surplus funds for building projects. It also avoided the traditional bond bill, which is usually passed in most sessions, to take on long-term debt. The legislators stated that they would be able do the same next fiscal year, as long as state revenue collections are high. The final result should be a decrease in the amount that the state spends on its debt service. For the current year, the debt service payment was $439 millions. The $222.3 million surplus funds were used to fund hundreds of projects throughout the state. This was one of many appropriations bills that were passed. The leadership distributed a summary of the projects to the members, but not to media members. The House passed the spending bill in under two minutes after the summary was read. The sheer number of appropriations bills that were being considered at one time seemed overwhelming. Legislators started to take up these bills late because they had not been able to do so before. Senate leaders claim that this happened because the House leadership refused work on them until a $525million tax cut was approved and passed on March 28. Rep. Zakiya Sommers, D.Jackson, said that she was worried about the speed of the process and expressed concern about the possibility for mistakes. “… You don’t have the time to discuss or ask questions. Summers stated that she would have liked to see American Rescue Plan funds allocated to Jackson due to its unique position as the largest city in the state to address its substandard water and sewer systems. Instead, Jackson will be able to apply for grants like all other cities in the state to help improve the system. She stated that she was afraid to vote for the grant bill proposed by the leadership. She stated, “If you don’t vote for this, you don’t get to vote on anything.” The House leadership stated that Jackson intends to raise $25 million from the nearly $50 million ARPA funds it received in order to potentially pull down $25 millions in state ARPA funds to help with water and sewer infrastructure projects. To access state ARPA funds, the Legislature approved a program that requires a dollar for dollar match from larger cities. Providing $20 million in federal ARPA funds for private schools, both private universities and kindergarten-12th-grade schools, was one area that was up for debate in the last days. Opponents argued that public funds shouldn’t be used to fund private schools. Although the Senate rejected the private school bill initially, the Senate leadership eventually voted to pass it. Additional funds were also used to boost efforts to improve the state’s highway system. This included spending $40 million from surplus funds to match federal funds through the U.S. Congress approved watershed infrastructure bill last year. Hosemann stated that “Our constituents, cities and counties have asked us to allocate our resources to improve maintenance and addition to our infrastructure.” “This package is a direct reply to their request. It includes projects that range from critical safety issues to routine maintenance to new infrastructure throughout our state.” About $40 million was also authorized by the Legislature to improve conditions in state parks. Hosemann stated that a study showed it would cost $160 million to meet all of the park system’s needs. He stated that he hoped additional funds would be appropriated for this effort in the 2023 session. READ MORE: 2022 Legislative Session: Cutting taxes, fear, and loathing, spending billions. It wasn’t pretty but it was historic.