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Mississippi governor seeks several changes in budget process

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is asking legislators to tweak the budget process to ease rating agencies’ concerns about the state’s finances.

The Republican on Friday released the agenda for a special legislative session that begins Monday. It includes a list of proposals that Bryant calls the “Fortify Act.”

He is asking legislators to build up savings in the state’s rainy day fund.

He also wants to formalize a requirement for the Legislative Budget Office to write a multiyear proposal for how the state will handle its money. Bryant said the office already does this, but rating agencies are happier when the practice is mandated by law.

State budgets are written months in advance based on estimates of how much money will be available. The estimates typically include a relatively small amount of money that experts think will be left over the end of one budget year and carried into the next. Bryant is asking lawmakers to stop using the carry-over money as part of the estimate for the next year.

“This takes some of the guess work out of preparing the budget and allows for the purest estimate of revenue in any given year,” he said Friday.

Three credit rating agencies — Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s Financial Services — have expressed concerns about Mississippi’s finances since last summer.

During the special session, Bryant is also asking lawmakers to revise a 2016 law that attempted to simplify the budget process 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.

Attorney General Jim Hood said the 2016 law has prevented some agencies from using federal money for specific expenses. Bryant wants lawmakers to specify that federal money can be spent on utility payments and technology.

Lawmakers in special session also need to set budgets for the attorney general’s office and the Department of Transportation for the year that begins July 1. They wrote other parts of the overall $6 billion budget during the regular session that ended in late March, but the House and Senate disagreed on spending plans for those agencies.

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