/Lawmakers spend unprecedented state, federal funds

Lawmakers spend unprecedented state, federal funds

The total state support budget, which has been approved by legislative leaders and is currently being rubberstamped in full by the members, is expected to reach $7.32 Billion. This is 9.2% more than the amount that was allocated for the current fiscal. Late Monday saw work continue to finalize and spend federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The deadline for completion of the process is Tuesday at midnight. The $750 million of federal ARPA money from the state will be distributed to rural water associations, cities and counties as matching money or grants for water infrastructure projects. You can see the full ARPA spending list by scrolling to the bottom. Most of the 100 budget bills that were presented by the leadership had been approved by Monday, despite the April 5 deadline. Also, legislators have limited influence over the budgeting process and the majority of them are not being debated. “This is frustrating at two levels. Not enough members have input. If the conferencing (negotiations), was done openly, members would have more ideas.” said Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House minority leader. “And we are almost forced into a vote because so many things are done at deadline.” The infusion of $35 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds into the state economy has seen state tax collections rise, allowing legislators to be able address more state needs than usual. The general tax revenue that funds the state-support budget includes income tax, tax on retail, and income tax. It doesn’t include special fund agencies, which are funded by a special tax/fee. Federal funds are excluded as they provide $11 billion to the state. Briggs Hopson (R-Vicksburg), Senate Appropriations Chair, stated that “To maintain government services at their level we expect them, we must spend a little more money to keep pace with inflationary costs.” Hopson stated that the average growth in state agency budgets was 3.1%. The budget, which was being finalized late Monday, will also include significant spending. Sometimes it will be one-time spending. The Legislature has allocated $54 million to Department of Human Services to fund a new computer system that will allow the agency that oversees federal social services to run more efficiently. The appropriation for Mississippi Adequate Education Program (which provides basic education to local school districts) is one area that appears not to be keeping up with inflation. MAEP’s funding will increase by $83.2 million or 3.7%. About $45 million of this additional spending will be used to pay for a teacher raise that was approved during the 2021 session. This means that those funds won’t be available to cover the more than 6 percent increase in inflationary cost. Dennis DeBar (R-Leakesville), Senate Education Chair, stated that MAEP will fall short of its full funding by about $304 million. The budget will also include $246 million to pay for the $24 million teacher raise that was approved by the Legislature this year. These funds will not be included in the MAEP funding formula for next year. It appears that both public and community colleges will see significant increases in their budgets that could be used to give faculty raises. The budget for 15 community colleges will increase by almost 11%, or $27.4million. Meanwhile, the budget for eight public universities will jump by $125.7 million, or 17%. Budget funds will also be used to cover the higher costs of employees in the state’s health insurance program. Hopson stated that the budget will ensure no state employee is paid less than the state Personnel Board’s minimum wage. The Personnel Board determines the salaries for similar positions in private industry and other states. To see the range of salaries for employees, go to the website of the state Personnel Board. The $1.8 billion that the Legislature received from the Legislature was spent by lawmakers. More than $295 million will be held back for next year. The $750 million largest expense will be the provision of matching money to city and county governments as well as rural water associations in order to support states’ aging water and sewerage infrastructure. ARPA funds will be split between counties and cities. They will each receive $900 million. The state will match small towns receiving less than $1,000,000 from ARPA with a 1-to-1 match. The state ARPA match for cities is limited to $50 million. Rural water associations would receive grants up to $2.5 Million. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann initially advocated spending more on matching funds to support major water, sewer, and other projects in cities and counties. Hosemann originally suggested that the state match half of its $1.8 million ARPA allotment with state funds in order to fund larger, more “transformative and generational” projects for local government. The final ARPA spending agreement was approved by the Mississippi Municipal League head Shari Veivete and legislative leaders. Shari Veazey, Director of Mississippi Municipal League, stated that while they are disappointed at the amount not agreed upon initially — there are still needs — but that it was a good thing that they have reached an agreement. “There was once talk about them waiting for one year. Our cities have shovel ready projects” Representatives from rural water associations, which supply water to most Mississippians, told lawmakers that they have $1.4 billion in state-needed projects. These systems were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, when USDA loans were affordable. However, they have not been financially able to maintain and upgrade them. The Senate’s ARPA spending program was drafted by Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg), who led hearings and helped to craft it. Much of this plan was approved by the House. Polk stated Monday night that he was very happy about the final ARPA agreements. “We are going to spend a lot more money than we need to on very worthwhile projects in Mississippi,” said Jason White, R-West House Speaker Pro Tem. He stated that lawmakers could monitor the water- and sewerage match programs and shift or add money to them next year. There was not much debate about budget bills or ARPA, as the House and Senate passed dozens of bills in a marathon Monday. However, there were some questions about ARPA spending. There was some controversy over the decision by the state to give $20 million in ARPA funds for private colleges and K-12 schools. However, it passed with bipartisan support. 64 votes to 27, with 16 voting absent and 13 voting present, the measure passed. Rep. Becky Currie voted against the measure. Rep. William “Bo”, Brown, D.Jackson said: “It appears to me that we should be putting these money into our public schools. Not private colleges.” Private college representatives stated that many of their campuses are over 100 years old and require work. They also suggested that they could expand their healthcare programs and nursing programs, just like public universities. Here’s how lawmakers reached an agreement to spend $1.5 Billion of more than $1.8 Billion in ARPA funds. Environmental Quality/local water, sewerage: $450 Million to match county and city ARPA funds for water and sewerage infrastructure projects. Child Protection Services: $59.1 Million. The bulk of this money will be used to help the state’s troubled foster system comply with federal court-ordered reforms resulting from a long-running federal case. Employment Security: $60 Million. This includes $40 million to support nurse training at colleges or universities and $20 million for infrastructure for health sciences. To cover COVID-19 costs, Emergency Management will cost $3.2 million. Department of Finance and Administration: 337.25 millions. This includes infrastructure improvements at state agencies, colleges, universities, and state parks. It also includes: Health Department/rural Water Associations: $339.5 Million, including $300,000,000 for fiscal 2022 and 39.5 million for FY 23. The majority of this $300 million will be used to upgrade infrastructure in rural water associations across the state. The Health Department will also receive money to pay for ICU and specialist beds in the event of a pandemic or telehealth. $56 million for public universities/UMMC This includes $6 million to repay a nurse loan and $50 million to renovate the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Mental Health: $104.6 Million. This money will go mainly to fund federal court-ordered reforms. $18.5 million will be given to community mental health centers. Public Safety: $32.5 Million more than FY’22 or FY’23. This includes $12 Million for premium pay for firefighters and law enforcement, and $5 Million for death benefits for COVID-19-affected first responders. Supreme Court: $3.5 million. This money can be used to pay DAs, staff, public defenders, and trial judges in order to reduce court backlogs. University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Nursing Building: $55 Million Mississippi National Guard: $10.4 Million for improvements and base infrastructure. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today.