Mississippi lawmakers seek higher reserves, less spending
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Top Mississippi lawmakers on Monday proposed small cuts for most state agencies this coming year, seeking to put more money in reserve.
The recommendations would mark another decline in state spending after sharp midyear cuts in fiscal 2017, followed by more cuts when the 2018 budget was written. That lack of money has sparked tuition increases at community colleges and public universities, has weighed on K-12 education spending, and has been blamed for some layoffs and service cutbacks.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee adopted a plan that would cut more than 1 percent from overall state spending in the 2019 budget year, which begins July 1. Spending from state-generated revenue sources would fall below $6 billion for the first time since 2014.
The committee’s recommendations, although influential, are typically altered during the legislative session.
Mississippi’s tax revenues have lagged in recent years because of hundreds of millions in tax cuts and feeble economic growth. In 2019, lawmakers project flat revenue of $6 billion. But spending would shrink a little, largely because Republican legislative leaders on Monday agreed with Gov. Phil Bryant that the state should follow a law requiring 2 percent of projected General Fund revenue to be set aside to cushion budgetary shortfalls. Some years, lawmakers pass a special law disregarding that requirement, while this year they chose to reserve only 1 percent of revenue. Saving 2 percent requires a $56 million cut in spending.
“We decided how big the pie was going to be ... and most every decision did in fact flow from there,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
State aid to K-12 schools would be flat at $2.2 billion, about $250 million less that the state’s funding formula calls for. Lawmakers have been ignoring calls to follow the formula for years, a stance bolstered earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the Legislature was free to disregard a law that appeared to require the formula’s full funding.
Universities would take a 3 percent cut, while community colleges would take a 1.3 percent cut. Some of that decrease to universities stems from the end of the state’s obligations to provide additional money to Mississippi’s three historically black universities under a desegregation settlement . Sen. Willie Simmons, a Cleveland Democrat, asked other lawmakers to work to avoid any decrease, although allowed.
Bryant’s budget proposal seeks $7 million to help some recent high school graduates and adults to attend community colleges to study technical and health occupations. Lawmakers made no mention of the proposal Monday.
Lawmakers propose additional cuts to the state crime lab and medical examiner, despite those agencies saying that funding shortages are hindering their ability to conduct autopsies and prepare criminal evidence in a timely manner. Reeves suggested the Department of Public Safety should move money from other functions to cover any needs there. Lawmakers did propose more money to that department to enroll another class of State Trooper candidates and to pay the salaries of troopers now in training.
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