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Gov. Bryant issues call for special legislative session

Phil Bryant

Phil Bryant

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is calling legislators into special session Tuesday to patch a hole in the budget before the fiscal year ends at midnight Thursday.

He’s asking the House and Senate to give him permission to pull more money out of the state’s $350 million rainy day fund.

Mississippi could be much as $75 million short in the $6 billion-plus budget, even after Bryant made two rounds of budget cuts and dipped into the rainy day fund earlier this year. State tax collections ran $206 million short of original estimates through May.

Bryant said in a news release Monday that the session will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“Disciplined and conservative spending by Republican leadership the last five legislative sessions has left the rainy day fund in the perfect position to fill the small deficit in the FY16 budget,” Bryant said in the statement. “I would urge lawmakers to complete their work quickly, to keep taxpayers’ costs as low as possible.”

Only the governor can call a special session, and only he can set the agenda. Bryant is not asking lawmakers to consider any changes in the 2017 budget, which takes effect Friday.

Funding for most state agencies is being cut in the 2017 budget, and many agency directors have expressed concerns about a move to sweep special funds into the general state fund.

Special funds are generally fees collected for specific purposes, such as leases paid to the secretary of state’s office for public tidelands. Republican legislative leaders, including senators who came up with the plan, have said putting the special funds into general state spending will provide more transparency in how public money is spent. But several agency leaders, including some Republicans elected statewide, have said the change will cause confusion and could put some programs at risk.

House Democratic Leader David Baria of Bay St. Louis said Monday that Bryant is hurting the state by not letting legislators reconsider the 2017 spending plan.

“He’s going to continue to whistle past the graveyard on next year’s budget and not address the Senate bill that’s got everybody so confused,” Baria told The Associated Press.

In January, Bryant cut $39.8 million in spending and took $35.2 million from the rainy day fund so it could be spent. In April, he cut $25 million in spending and took $10 million out of the rainy day fund.

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