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Legislators may revise change in Mississippi budget process

Mississippi lawmakers could spend part of their 2017 session revising a change they made to the state budget in 2016.

The Budget Transparency and Simplification Act was intended to streamline spending by wiping out the practice of some state government agencies paying others for things such as rent and technology services. It was also supposed to move all “special funds,” which are fees collected for specific programs, into the general state budget.

But, before the current budget year even started in July, Attorney General Jim Hood responded to agencies’ requests for legal advice and said the Legislature lacked the legal authority to move special funds into the general budget. Though his advice isn’t legally binding, it provides guidance for agencies, including the state Department of Finance and Administration, the main money minder within state government.

Some money can’t be spent. So, rather than simplifying the budget process, the 2016 law has made things more complicated — at least for now.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said legislators need to fine-tune the law, which was filed last year as Senate Bill 2362.

“I think we said when we passed it, we knew and recognized that was going to be a work in progress,” Gunn said during a pre-session interview. “We knew that there would be some things uncovered and discovered that would need to be addressed.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves takes a different view.

“There is no issue with 2362,” Reeves said in a separate interview.

The lieutenant governor said about $30 million from special funds “are just sitting there” because of the Democratic attorney general’s advice.

“They haven’t been transferred to the general fund, they haven’t been closed … and the agencies don’t have the authority to spend it,” Reeves said. “So, the Legislature will deal with that 30-plus million dollars, and that number changes, at some point during the session this year. Or, they won’t. And if the Legislature doesn’t act on them, these funds are just going to sit out there with $30 million sitting in them.”

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