Budget Issues Take Center Stage As Legislature Enters Last Weeks Of Session
By Tommy Reynolds
The Mississippi Legislature is entering the last two weeks of the Legislative Session, with budget issues taking the center stage in the legislative process. There are currently over 50 bills that appropriate money for most state agencies, which must be passed in the same version, within the next few days, for Mississippi to have a budget for the upcoming 2008-2009 Fiscal Year, which will begin July 1st of this year.
There are several requests by Executive Branch state agencies for deficit appropriations for the current Fiscal Year that will end July 1st. This means that these agencies will run out of money before July 1st, unless additional money is provided for them. The Department of Corrections has requested a 20 million deficit, largely for medical care of inmates. The State Medicaid Commission, which provides health care for approximately one-fourth of Mississippi residents, is requesting a 59.5 million deficit appropriation.
There are 8.6 million in judgments against the State of Mississippi, largely from Federal Court suits which must be paid-5 million of which is from a suit against the Department of Human Services involving foster care needs of Mississippi foster care children. There is a 2.2 million dollar deficit which is needed for transportation of dialysis patients, and will need to be appropriated before July 1st of this year.
In addition, the re is a 10 million deficit appropriation which will be required if county mental health centers, which we have in most counties in this State, will be able to remain open, until July 1st of this year.
What is needed is a commons approach, from both the House of Representatives and the Governor‚s Office on methods to solve the budget needs of the current Fiscal Year, which total over 100 million dollars in deficits, and the budget needs of the next Fiscal Year, as well.
The State of Mississippi currently has approximately 265 million dollars in the so-called”Rainy Day” Fund. This money exists so that in times of revenue shortfall, there will be adequate state revenue to make up budget shortfalls.
Critical budget decisions for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1st, in addition to funding needed deficit appropriations, must be made in the next few days. I strongly support providing adequate funding for our colleges and universities, as inadequate funding results in tuition increases at these universities, which I feel can help to price middle income students out of receiving the type of education that they should receive. In addition, mental health transportation and K-12 education needs must be met at adequate levels, or increased demands on local funding, may result in increased local taxes.
The growth and revenue for next year is projected to be 2.4% above current revenues. Of course, whatever the budget solution or agreement, appropriated amounts will not equal the amounts requested by state agencies, but hopefully, a budget can be developed that will meet the critical needs of our State.
Many of the non-money, or General Bills are in conference committee now, and agreed versions of these Bills are being negotiated. The Legislative Session is scheduled for adjournment on April 19th.
If I can be of any assistance to you please call on me. My phone number in Jackson during the session is (601) 359-3365. The phone number in my Charleston office is (662) 647-3203, and my residence phone number is (662) 473-2571. I can also be contacted by writing me at my home address of 15 CR 429, Water Valley, MS 38965, or at my office address of P.O. Box 220, Charleston, MS 38921.