/With Medicaid hanging in the balance, Legislature crafts state budget

With Medicaid hanging in the balance, Legislature crafts state budget

A few bills were also subject to moderate scrutiny, and in some cases rancor. The budget for Mississippi Public Broadcasting was a subject of heated debate in both chambers. It is operated under the auspices of an agency called the Educational Television Authority. Although initial budget numbers suggested a slight increase for MPB (which produces radio and television programming), some members decided to eliminate state funding by 2024. Budget writers stated that the provision was intended to encourage MPB’s efforts to raise funds through its private foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a federal agency). Senator David Blount (D-Jackson) tried unsuccessfully for the report to be sent back to the committee. He noted that MPB receives approximately 60 percent of its funding from the Legislature. Blount explained to his colleagues that “if you support language, then you are saying that you want Mississippi Public Broadcasting to close down.” Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) presented the compromise agreement. He stated that MPB would have six year before any state funding was pulled. It was also possible that a future Legislature might eliminate the provision. Tollison stated, “I believe it’s high time we take action on private funding.” Monday evening saw lawmakers finishing up the budget and making final calculations. Here’s what it looked like: Colleges and Universities. The Legislature authorized $107 million worth of new bonds to support the state’s community colleges and universities for next year. Late Sunday night, Senator Bob Dearing (D-Natchez) stated that Delta State University received less funding than what the legislative budget office recommended. Dearing informed Sen. Joey Fillingane, Finance Committee Chairman, that neither the Delta state nor the IHL board requested this. Fillangane claimed he didn’t know the reason the school was not receiving more money but assured Dearing that there were no nefarious activities at Delta State. Colleges and universities will be receiving a total of $84 million next year and $167 million in the next two years. Next year, the state’s community colleges and junior colleges will be receiving approximately $25 million. For the next two years, the following is an approximate breakdown of IHL: * Alcorn State University: $11 million. This includes $1.5 million for emergency repairs to water infrastructure and sewer infrastructure. * Delta State University: $11 Million, with several million for campus roof repairs. Jackson State University: $15m, with $8.5m for Stewart Hall renovation. Mississippi State University: $30m, $20m for a new kinesiology facility. Mississippi University for Women: $12 Million, $6.6 million for a new building in the culinary arts. Mississippi Valley State University: $12million, $6 million of which will go towards the Charles Lackey Center renovation. University of Mississippi: $20m, with the final $12 million to build the STEM building. * University of Mississippi Medical Center – About $24 Million, which all will go to Children’s of Mississippi. * University of Southern Mississippi – About $23 Million, with $7 million for campus facilities repairs. Transportation Lawmakers are still working late Monday to finalize appropriations for Mississippi Department of Transportation. However, they passed a bill Monday that could provide additional funding to the state’s roads or bridges if revenue rises above 2 percent of their estimate. House Bill 354 was introduced by Speaker Philip Gunn (Republican from Clinton), which would transfer half the extra revenue to MDOT. Sixty percent would be used for state roads and bridges projects. Twenty-five percent would go towards county projects and fifteen percent to municipal projects. K-12 Education The majority of the $2.5 billion education bill received level funding or an increase. The question of education funding sparked intense debate earlier in the session. The Legislature debated the merits a new formula but the appropriations conference reports passed both chambers with little debate on Monday. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is the state’s formula for funding public schools, saw an increase of $3.1 million to $2.2 billion. Legislators stated that the additional MAEP funds will be used to pay for increased costs associated with teachers’ health insurance. The Attorney General’s budget provided $2.5 million to fund early childhood programs. $6.5 million came from them. The Chickasaw Interest program which funds Native American schools in Mississippi saw an increase of more than $962,000 to $20.5million. The division of vocational and technical education received $97 million. Meanwhile, the Mississippi School for the Blind and Deaf received a $1.7million increase to $11.5 million. Public Safety The Department of Public Safety received an $86.6 million state grant, a $2.1million increase in funding over the previous year. This was a significant improvement on the agency’s expectations. The Office of the Medical Examiner was the most notable winner of this department, seeing its funding nearly triple from $487,000 annually to $1.2million. Marshall Fisher, Public Safety Commissioner, said that it was a “home run”. The office has had difficulty filling its five positions of medical examiners for years. Chief Medical Examiner Mark LeVaughn stated that this was due to the high workload and low salaries. Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today’s reporter, detailed the budget problems that plagued the department last fiscal year. The department has only had two medical examiners since January. LeVaughn stated that if funds don’t increase quickly, it was “not likely” that both medical examiners would be leaving before the end of the year. LeVaughn stated that “we can’t continue doing good work with this load.” It’s not sustainable,” LeVaughn stated. The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends that each medical examiner only perform 250 autopsies per year. LeVaughn stated that he and another medical examiner could each perform about 750 autopsies if more doctors weren’t hired. Fisher stated that he hopes the increased funds will be used to strengthen the staffing of the office. The Bureau of Narcotics was awarded funding at the same level as last year, which Director John Dowdy described as a pleasant surprise. The Legislative Budget Office recommended a cut of nearly $200,000 Dowdy stated that the bureau, which closed its Tupelo office last year, was pleased with the increase and is optimistic it will be able bring additional agents to the city. Dowdy stated that “what we received was beyond my expectations” and that the legislature was very kind to them. It doesn’t change the fact that there are still a lot of agents vacant in the state. It allows us to hire some agent.” The $9.67 million total departmental appropriation was also increased by $450,000 for the state crime laboratory, which also faces a large backlog from staffing shortages. Fisher stated that this year’s budget gives him more flexibility, and that he hopes to be able move other Department of Public Safety resources into the crime lab. Fisher stated that no one ever gets everything they desire. “Overall, we’re very satisfied.” Budget writers stated that the Department of Corrections would receive $6 million more than what the legislative budget office recommended. This was partly to defray the medical costs of privately-run facilities. Budget writers revealed that the agency has a $20 million budget deficit. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story