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Mississippi lawmakers propose spending cuts for coming year

Top lawmakers are proposing a Mississippi budget that would be 3 percent smaller for the coming year.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee met Thursday, and members adopted a recommendation for the state to spend almost $6.2 billion during fiscal 2018, which begins July 1. That is a reduction of $195.3 million from the current year.

“I would advise agencies to pay strong attention to this budget recommendation and to begin working with the Legislature to find ways to continue offering essential services while operating at the leanest levels possible,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton.

The committee recommends spending roughly the same on K-12 education in the coming year, even though legislators could rewrite the school funding formula based on recommendations that will be made by a consulting group in the next several weeks.

The budget proposal includes a $20.4 million increase in funding for schools that show academic improvement. Schools could receive up to $100 per pupil for maintaining a high accreditation level, or for improving their ratings from one year to the next.

The proposal includes $300,000 to give pay raises to Department of Public Safety officers and $600,000 to pay salaries at the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. The two museums are scheduled to open in December 2017 in Jackson.

Among the programs that could see spending cuts under the committee’s proposal are Medicaid, universities, community colleges, mental health and prisons.

This is just an early plan, though. The House and Senate face a deadline in late March to agree on final details of the budget.

Legislators also could consider budget recommendations released last month by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the legislative recommendation includes tax reductions that were signed into law earlier this year and are being phased in over several years, including during fiscal 2018. The law is supposed to reduce taxes by $415 million over 12 years by phasing out the franchise tax, reducing the personal income tax and lowering taxes on self-employment.

Both Bryant and the Legislative Budget Committee recommend that the state spend only 98 percent of anticipated revenue, putting the other 2 percent into savings. The state has had a rule requiring the 2 percent set-aside for more than two decades, but it has often been ignored when revenue has fallen short of expectations in a sluggish economy.

Legislators recommend deleting 1,999 vacant jobs in state government, but did not say how much money that would save. They recommend cutting $12 million for travel, which would take travel spending back down to fiscal 2012 levels. They said the state could save $19 million by putting a one-year hold on the purchase of vehicles. And, they said the state could save $13 million by removing civil-service protection from jobs in most state agencies, which make it easier for agency directors to hire or fire workers.

Legislators also recommend cutting $4.5 million from the roughly $25 million to $35 million that is being spent on remedial courses for students at community colleges and universities. Gunn said he has already spoken to the state superintendent of education and the heads of the community college and university systems about eliminating duplication in remedial programs.


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