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Gov. Bryant places priority on reserves in his budget plan

The second-term Republican governor broke with the tradition of holding a news conference to release his budget proposal and did so instead Tuesday morning via social media.

In defending his proposal to focus on bolstering reserves, Bryant said in his recommendation, “The choice to save is not an easy one. Setting aside revenue means foregoing spending on government programs. Over the long run, however, the tough choices we make now can prevent us from having to make even tougher choices during economic downturns when citizens can least afford the impact of program cuts.”

The governor is required by law to release a budget proposal before the start of the legislative session each January. In the coming days, the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee, which includes House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, also will release a proposal.

The governor’s proposal was released one day after he met with the Legislative Budget Committee to agree on a revenue estimate that will represent the amount of general funds revenue available to appropriate during the upcoming fiscal year. They agreed to increase the revenue estimate for the next fiscal year 1.8 percent or $104.9 million over the current year. In addition, they agreed to revise the estimate upward for the current year 0.3 percent or $69.7 million.

“The balance of that increase will be set aside to comply with the 98 percent rule,” Bryant wrote in his executive summary to his budget proposal.

The 98 percent rule is in reality a state law that mandates 2 percent of the estimated revenue collections for each fiscal year – $116.9 million – not be appropriated. This provides “a cushion” if revenue collections do not meet the estimate. In recent years, the 98 percent rule has been waived. When it is waived, it is more likely that the governor will have to make mid-year budget cuts, as Bryant already had to do this fiscal year and had to do twice the past fiscal year.

While legislative leaders and Bryant increased the estimate Monday, they still expect sluggish collections. Collections for the current fiscal year are expected to be less than for the previous fiscal year.

Besides trying to restore reserve funds, including a rainy day fund and the 2 percent set aside, Bryant is also recommending various agencies be cut as the state faces the possibility of sluggish collections.

Bryant’s total state-support budget recommendation is $6.27 billion – $29.4 million or 0.5 percent less than the budget for the current fiscal year.

He is recommending a $16.4 million or 0.7 percent increase for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the bulk of the state’s share of the basics to operate local school districts. Bryant said he hopes the extra funds can be directed toward a new school funding formula that is being developed by legislative leaders.

One of the biggest cuts percentage-wise is the 9.5-percent or $623,330 recommended cut to public television and radio. Bryant said he wants the agency to become more self sufficient in the coming years.

The governor also proposed a 9.5-percent or $14.9 million cut to the Department of Education and a 1.8-percent or $7.1 million cut to the universities. Community colleges are level funded in Bryant’s proposal.

Numerous agencies already are dealing with significant cuts enacted by the 2016 Legislature and signed into law by Bryant.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

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