By BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal
The long and winding road that leads to the Legislature’s finally passing a state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1, goes public later this week.
On Thursday and Friday, the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee, led by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, will hear requests for funding from key agency heads. Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, also is on the Budget Committee and rotates on an annual basis with the lieutenant governor as chairman of the panel.
For the past couple of months, the more than 100 agencies, boards and commissions the Legislature funds each year have been developing their budget proposals to submit to the staff of the Legislative Budget Committee.
The committee will hear from some of those key agencies, such as kindergarten through 12th-grade education, Medicaid and higher education, during the two days of public hearings.
At one point, the Budget Committee hearings went on over a multiple week time period in September, but in recent years the number of meetings have been whittled down.
Still, members say the information they glean from the public meetings plays a key role in developing the budget.
“This is our first look at spending requests from agencies, and I expect those proposals to evolve as they often do as we move through the budgeting process,” Reeves said. ”At the end of the day, we’re going to have a balanced budget that doesn’t spend more than the state is taking in, and we’re going to keep emphasizing the importance of making departments more efficient in daily operations as taxpayers expect.”
The overall state budget is more than $20 billion. This includes:
- State-support revenue coming primarily from general taxation, such as the sales tax on retail items, personal income, businesses, casino gambling and a litany of other taxes. This totals around $6 billion.
- Special funds coming from taxes, fees and assessments that fund specific agencies. The Department of Transportation, funded with an 18.4-cent per gallon tax on motor fuel, is the largest special fund agency. Others include, for instance, an assessment on barbers to fund their regulatory board. The total special funds budget is more than $5 billion.
- Federal funds coming to supplement the state effort in a number of areas, ranging from Medicaid, to education, to public safety, to social welfare programs. Federal funds account for more than $9 billion in the state budget.
The Mississippi Legislature has limited discretion in determining how those federal funds are spent. The special funds are, for the most part, directed toward specific purposes based on the laws passed by the Legislature. But the Legislature can, and sometimes does, redirect those funds.
The real legislative discretion comes in determining how the state-support funds are spent. The general tax revenue pays for most of the general operations of the state budget ranging from education to public safety to health care to the state parks. Divvying up those funds consumes much of the time the Legislature spends focusing on the budget.
It also is the area that will garner the most attention from the Legislative Budget Committee.
After the public meetings are complete, the Budget Committee is scheduled to meet with Gov. Phil Bryant on Nov. 1 to adopt a revenue estimate of the amount of general fund revenue that will be available during the next fiscal year to fund the state-support budget. This estimate is based on recommendations from the state’s financial experts.
Based on that estimate, the Budget Committee and the governor both will develop budget proposals that will be released later in November.
Soon after the 2018 session begins in early January, work will begin in earnest on developing a budget that, barring complications, will be approved by the full Legislature and signed into law by the governor in late March or April. A few months after that, work will begin on developing a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2019.