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Governor proposes $6.1B budget; no new taxes or fees

JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant is proposing a $6.1-billion state budget that would put more money into education and public safety for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1. It would not increase taxes or fees.

In a plan unveiled yesterday, the Republican governor said he seeks to eliminate the use of one-time money to pay for recurring expenses. He said he also wants to put millions of dollars into the state’s cash reserves.

His budget would be slightly higher than the current year’s state-supported spending of nearly $5.8 billion.

Bryant said some parts of state government — including the Governor’s Mansion and smaller agencies such as the Arts Commission and the Ethics Commission — would receive the same amount of money they’re getting now.

“Let’s see how we can spend it in a smarter, better way,” Bryant said at the Capitol.

Bryant and top lawmakers agreed last week on an estimate that the state will collect almost $5.4 billion during FY15. The governor’s budget is built on that estimate, which would be supplemented by money from recurring sources — $373 million from an education enhancement fund and $109.8 million from the annual payment from a tobacco lawsuit settlement that dates back to the late 1990s. The governor also counts on $35 million in additional tax collections because the Department of Revenue is working with a new computer system that makes the collection process more efficient.

The 14-member Legislative Budget Committee releases its own FY 2015 spending plan in December, and the full Legislature convenes in January. If lawmakers stay on schedule, a majority of the 122-member House and 52-member Senate should adopt a budget and send it to the governor by early April.

Lawmakers typically adopt few suggestions from any governor’s budget, regardless who’s in that office and which party controls the House or Senate. Both chambers are Republican-controlled this term, but that doesn’t guarantee that Bryant will have a large influence over the final spending plan.

Bryant proposes using $86 million in cash for repair and renovation of state-owned buildings, with $16 million of that to be used for elementary and secondary schools. He said this is an effort to get away from issuing bonds and creating long-term debt for such projects.

The governor proposes putting more money into several programs, including the Department of Corrections, which has been struggling to control costs with an expanding inmate population.

Bryant said he’s “sorry to say” his budget includes a 5 percent increase for the Division of Medicaid, which he attributed to the federal health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. The governor’s budget includes $4.4 million for the state to reimburse hospitals part of the “disproportionate share” money they’ll lose for treating uninsured patients. Bryant said he continues to oppose Medicaid expansion, which is an option under the federal health law.

Reducing the use of one-time money for recurring expenses and putting more cash into reserves would help address concerns raised by the Fitch credit rating agency, which said Nov. 5 that it had downgraded Mississippi’s bond rating outlook from stable to negative. The state’s bond rating remains AA+, only one step below the highest AAA level, but the agency warned the rating could be lowered unless officials take steps to shore up state government finances. A lower bond rating would make it more expensive for state government to borrow money.


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