By Tommy Reynolds
Last week the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which consists of seven members of the House and seven members of the Senate, voted not to follow the recommendation of the State Economist to increase the revenue estimate for our current fiscal year by $60 million dollars because of in-creased economic activity in our state. The seven House members voted to increase the estimate and the seven Senate members voted against increasing the revenue estimate.
The action of the Committee in not following the advice of the State Economist will likely mean that on June 30 of this year the State of Mississippi will have $60 million dollars more in unassigned and un-appropriated funds than was projected when the budget was made last year and it will also mean that key state agencies and functions will be deprived of funds which they need to perform their basic missions and service.
Was this the action of individuals with varying ideas about the importance of the measure? No. It was an equal divide between the House and the Senate. Seven Senators voted “No.” Witnesses report the Senate leadership dictated this action.
Crucial funding for many of our state’s most vital services was left on the table when the meeting adjourned.
An important example would be the opportunity to restore some of the millions cut from our State Depart-ment of Mental Health in Senate Bill 2874. With a restoration of the cut funds, we would also regain the $20 million that we are about to lose in federal funding for a total increase of $26 million.
To my knowledge, every single individual at the Capitol on opening day of the Legislature was aware that our mental health programs urgently needed the full attention of our efforts.
By March, however, the House had voted along with the Senate to cut funding for this crucial area of state service because of low budget revenue estimates. Commit-tee votes against budget expansion deprives us for needed mental health services for our deserving citizens.
Our Department of Public Safety has also suffered budgetary setbacks. We all recognize that one of the primary services of government is the protection of our citizens. Yet, revenue estimates would not allow for us to adequately fund this important programs. Expanding the budget revenue would help. The Senators on the budget committee axed the opportunity.
The low funding of our K-12 education system, along with our community colleges and universities is an issue with which we are all too familiar. It is the constant subject of headlines across the state. The halls of the Capitol are full of educators and others urging full funding of our educational programs if our people are ever to fully succeed. All statistical measures point to a system in dire straits. Again, another vital service of government was left wanting in the budget expansion meeting.
I agree with House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, when he made the statement disagreeing with the action of “leaving $60 million on the table … like it doesn’t exist.” I think decisions affecting our state budget should be made on arithmetic and not on politics.
Please contact me on these or any other issues at 15 CR 429, Water Valley, MS 38965 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can also be reached by telephone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you.