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Small decrease expected for Mississippi budget next year

Mississippi is on track to have a slightly smaller budget in the coming year under a revenue estimate adopted Wednesday, a change that reflects caution about the state’s economy.

Top lawmakers approved a projection that the state will have $5.6 billion available to spend during fiscal 2019, which begins July 1.

That is $1.5 million less than the estimate for the current year.

Mississippi has “struggled to regain momentum since the Great Recession” that started in 2008, and the state continues to lag behind the nation in economic growth, state economist Darrin Webb told Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

“Our recovery following the Great Recession has been one of the worst in the nation,” Webb said.

He said between the depth of the recession in 2009 and 2016, Mississippi’s economy grew 1.7 percent while the national economy grew 14.1 percent. The Southeastern region, excluding Mississippi, grew 16.9 percent. The four states surrounding Mississippi grew 8.2 percent.

The economist said Mississippi faces long-term challenges because its workforce is generally less healthy and less educated than most other states.

Webb serves on a five-member group that recommended the $5.6 billion revenue estimate that lawmakers will uses as a basis for writing the budget.

In December, the 14-member Budget Committee will recommend how to divvy up tax dollars for education, health, prisons and other state government functions. All lawmakers will get to vote on a spending plan during a three-month session that starts in January.

Webb said one consideration in recommending a slightly lower revenue estimate for the coming year was a multiyear package tax cuts that has started to take effect — or, as he put it, “legislative changes which have diminished growth in revenue.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he stands by the tax cuts. He said Webb presented “a relatively pessimistic outlook.”

“But, given the fact the revenue estimating group missed the revenue estimate last year by hundreds of millions of dollars and we saw what we had to deal with during the fiscal year, I think it’s prudent for us to have a very conservative revenue estimates,” Reeves said.

Bryant was forced to make multiple rounds of spending cuts last budget year because tax collections fell short of expectations.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn described the revenue estimate for the coming year as “realistic.”

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