/Legislative rule limits lawmakers’ ability to boost spending for underfunded agencies

Legislative rule limits lawmakers’ ability to boost spending for underfunded agencies

The state has more than $1Billion in reserves funds, money in the so-called “rainy day fund” and other funds. Yet, an average rank-and file legislator cannot propose an amendment to spend this money under the rules that have been in place for eight years. Members can’t propose an amendment to any of these funds to increase the budget for the troubled Department of Corrections, or to provide additional funds to help the state’s struggling foster care system. In order to increase spending for an agency, a member must specify which agency he/she is receiving the money. This was a rule that Republicans adopted in 2012 when they took control over both chambers the Mississippi Legislature. Because legislators don’t want to use funds from an underfunded agency to increase spending for another, it is difficult to add money to a budget bill. Some Mississippians would argue that most state agencies, including those in prisons, public health, and education, are not adequately funded. Briggs Hopson (R-Vicksburg), Senate Appropriations Chairman, stated that he supports the rule as it prevents members from spending money the state doesn’t have. Hopson stated that the revenue pie is not unlimited. Hopson stated, “Obviously, you can’t add money to just one agency. You have to find another place to get money. It would have to be from an agency.” However, this is not always true. The Legislative Budget Committee staff estimates that there are $1.3 billion in reserve funds, with $675 million in rainy-day funds. All of this money isn’t available for spending, so it may not be wise to use rainy day funds right now. The question is whether a legislator who does not have any say in the appropriations process, other than their vote on the floor should be allowed to present a proposal to the full chamber for consideration. Each four-year term begins with the creation of rules to govern the Senate and the House. The Joint Legislative Rules will be up for discussion by the Legislature in the coming weeks. Jason White (R-West), House Pro-Tem, stated that he hadn’t heard of any. Rep. Bryant Clark (D-Pickens) said that he believes that the rule is unfair. Clark stated that he doesn’t believe he can alter the rule but said he “still might consider proposing an amendment to it to change it, if for no other purpose than to draw attention to the fact that it takes away power from members of the body.” The rule was adopted by legislative leaders who wanted to stop members from proposing amendments to increase education spending. This would have forced the leadership to lobby members against increased education spending. The leadership didn’t want to see roll-call votes that showed their opposition to education spending. Senator Hob Bryan (D-Amory) said that there have not been any attempts by legislators to make irresponsible changes in the past. Bryan stated, “It’s absurd.” Bryan said, “It is absurd.” It would be identified as being in the blue, purple, or contingency funds and it would then be said that it is available. There were no amendments being offered by senators in an attempt to win political points. “If that were the case, then it would be possible to talk about how we can address that.” There are many ways to spend more money and not reduce funds for other agencies. If tax collections are strong, then there’s a possibility that legislators will meet late in session to discuss raising the revenue estimate. The legislators will have additional money for spending on the fiscal year that begins July 1, if the revenue estimate is raised. Only a few legislators will be able to decide how the additional revenue is spent. Clark stated that he was concerned about the rules being changed eight years ago, because “there were so many people left with institutional memories from the 1980s (when C.B. was speaker).” Clark said he was concerned about changing the rules eight years ago because “there were so few people left with institutional memory from the 1980s when (then speaker C.B.) had been speaking.” Others argue that absolute control is back._x000D