By BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal
Hood said the appropriation bill approved by the Legislature in Monday’s special session will provide the agency 28 percent less funding than the Legislature provided in the 2015 session for the fiscal year that started July 1 of that year.
While those cuts, by any measure, are substantial, in reality it is difficult to determine whether they are larger than all other state agencies.
The reason is that in the 2016 session the Legislature passed the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act that substantially changed the state’s budgeting process. But the legislative leadership has not released information detailing how those changes impact each agency.
In other words, comparing the appropriations levels for each agency before the Budget Transparency Act and afterward is comparing apples to oranges.
“A year and one-half later I do not understand how that information has not been made available to the Legislature and to the public,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.
Senate Appropriations Chair Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, the chief architect of the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act, said the information Bryan and others are seeking is being developed so that eventually people will be able to compare the budgets passed by the 2015 Legislature and the 2016 Legislature. But as Bryan pointed out, the 2017 Legislature already has completed its budget work for the upcoming fiscal, starting July 1.
The Budget Transparency and Simplification Act made two major changes to the way the state budget is constructed.
First, it stopped the practice of one state agency charging another state agency for services, such as the office of Attorney General charging for legal services provided to other agencies. During Monday’s special session the law was amended to make it easier for state agencies that receive federal funds to charge the federal government, not the state government, for services.
The other major change is that the legislation sweeps certain fees and assessments that were levied to support specific programs to the general fund to be divvied up among all state agencies.
It appears that the sweeps legislation will generate more than $115 million during the current fiscal year for the general fund.
But those programs that lost those fees and assessments still will be operated. The agency that administers those programs will have to do so within their existing general fund revenue.
“They come in (to the Legislature) and tell what their needs are,” Clarke explained. “We weigh that against every other agency.”
The problem, some agency heads claim, is that because of sluggish revenue collections they are receiving fewer state general funds while also losing the fees and assessments they previously were receiving to pay for the special programs they have the responsibility of operating.
The office of Attorney General is responsible for operating nine such programs. Th AG faces a double whammy of a reduction in general fund revenue, and the loss the fees and assessments it previously received to operate the nine special programs.
Hood estimates that the loss of general fund revenue and the fees and assessments has resulted in a 28 percent reduction in funds for his office since the 2015 legislative session.
Those programs previously operated at least in part on fees and assessments by Hood provide a variety of services, such as compensation to crime victims, providing disability benefits for law enforcement and firefighters, investigating and prosecuting child abuse and abuse against other vulnerable persons.
The 28 percent cut is from numbers compiled by Hood’s office. Other agencies have not developed similar comparisons.
And that information has not been compiled – or at least not released – by the legislative leadership. But since the Budget Transparency and Simplication Act was passed in 2016, several agencies, including Mental Health and the Department of Health, have cut major programs.