Facing more cuts to already lean budgets
The Senate worked through preliminary agency budgets for Fiscal Year 2018.
With revenue running below projections, primarily because Mississippi’s economic growth is not keeping pace with the national economy coupled with cumulative effects of years of corporate tax cuts, we faced making more cuts to already lean budgets. Among those that were cut were the Attorney General’s Office (3.8 percent), Institutions of Higher Learning (4 percent), Community and Junior Colleges (5.13 percent) and Division of Medicaid (1.1 percent). The House will now take up consideration of these measures; the Senate will review House proposals on other agency budgets as the session progresses.
The Mississippi Department of Education’s budget had a just over one-half percent increase at this early stage. Work is currently underway on a funding formula to replace the MAEP. This new formula is expected to be rolled out at some point, possibly during a special session within the regular session. The funding formula will likely affect all agency budget final amounts when the appropriation is determined. Supporters of MAEP believe that funding the current formula for several consecutive years will, determine what, if any, parts of it need to be changed.
Changes have also been implemented in the number of employee positions available to the agencies. Positions that have gone unfilled for a specified amount of time are being eliminated. Some of these positions have been vacant because budget cuts prevent their being filled. In some instances, employees are taking on the responsibilities of these vacant positions in addition to their own.
State revenues are still anemic and aren’t expected to increase much in the coming months, according to State Economist Darrin Webb who presented legislators with an “Economic Briefing” on Thursday. Mississippi is still experiencing a population drain, and has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent due to factors such as the “discouraged and other marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons,” Webb said. Consequently, income and sales taxes are down. More FY2017 budget cuts to state government are likely to occur under the current scenario.
In an unusual move, the appropriation for the Veterans Affairs Board was increased by $1.5 million with an amendment to its appropriation bill. The amendment, which passed on a voice vote, took the increase from the Mississippi Public Broadcasting budget.
During this session, several bills have been proposed that seek to remove board governance over various agencies and entities to place them under the purview of the governor. The Senate was presented with such a measure -- Senate Bill 2567, which would have removed the board of the State Department of Mental Health. This board is composed of appointed professionals in the field. The bill would have given the governor authority to appoint an executive director who could “reorganize” the agency as he or she saw fit. This measure was first passed by the Senate and then held on a motion to reconsider.
When an attempt to remove, or ‘table’ the motion failed on a bi-partisan vote, the bill finally died at last Monday’s deadline. The Senate recognized that this bill was not in the best interest of the agency, but it was especially potentially dangerous to its clients. The Senate confirmed its belief that whenever possible, oversight and regulation of professional services should be conducted by those who are experts in the field.
Among the groups who visited at the Capitol during the week were representatives of the many agencies, non-profits and providers who work hard to uplift and help Mississippians with disabilities. It was encouraging to see such an outpouring of organizations willing to help, and it was especially heartening to see the number of their clients who were on hand to see their government in action.
I can be reached at the Capitol while in session at (601) 359-3221, by cell phone at (662) 224-4126.
You may also email all of the senators at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Senate mailing address is P.O. Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215.