/Transparency’ bill effects are muddy

Transparency’ bill effects are muddy

The Budget Transparency and Simplification Act is currently awaiting action by Gov. Phil Bryant moves cash from the so-called special funds agencies to the general fund. He also prohibits state agencies charging or collecting fees from one another. The budget was approved by lawmakers at $6.1 billion. The Senate Appropriations Committee chair Senator Buck Clarke (R-Hollandale), who sponsored the bill, stated that an “underground economy”, which is interagency transfers, would generate about $102million to support the state’s budget. This amount represents approximately $19 million annually in savings, The Clarion-Ledger reported. Rachael Ring spoke for Attorney General Jim Hood and stated that the sweep would force the agency to pay some bills from its budget. The Legislature’s decision to “sweep” special funds will have devastating consequences for the payment of victims of violent crime as well as to firefighters and police officers who were injured in the line-of-duty. Ring stated in a statement that eliminating special funds and slashing our budget is like a parent taking a child’s college savings to pay off a Caribbean vacation, but promising to pay college fees from an account that was already overdrawn.” Many other agencies are still unsure about the impact of the bill on their bottom lines. “There were not a lot of questions that were asked of the agencies about the effects this would have, so there may have been unintended consequences,” Dr. Mary Currier, who oversees Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), said. Currier points out that her agency is one of the first to respond to natural disasters. MSDH was able to set up emergency rooms free of charge, move nursing home residents to safety, and help local restaurants reopen after the tornado that struck Louisville last year. Currier estimates that the health department rendered $1.2 million worth of services. Partly, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reimbursed Currier. She said that Bryant signing the transparency bill would mean the health department wouldn’t be able to recover those expenses. Lee Smithson, MEMA executive director, struck a similar chord to Dr. Currier recently telling Mississippi Today: “My concern about interagency fees was never discussed either by the House nor Senate. There was no discussion on Saturday (during conference weekend), and the committee only held a closed-door conference. “If the discussion had taken place earlier, I could have come to them in February to give them a number to show them how much we paid in interagency fees.” Marc Rolph, a spokesperson for the University of Mississippi Medical Center said that the school is not certain how the bill’s provisions will be implemented. Rolph stated that while we understand that the Institutions of Higher Learning (and its member universities) have an exemption under the bill, it is not clear how that will work, particularly in relation to state agencies with which we frequently work. Clarke did not return a message left on Clarke’s business phone. Laura Hipp is a spokesperson for the Lieutenant Governor. Tate Reeves said that the governor’s office and agency heads are working together to develop a plan for implementing the changes requested by the bill. Hipp stated that while it will be difficult to change the status quo’s, the Lieutenant Governor believes more transparency and greater scrutiny of spending taxpayer dollars is worth the effort. Gabriel Austin