JACKSON – If preliminary numbers hold, 2018 will mark the third consecutive session where Mississippi legislators cut state spending.
The budgets proposed for the upcoming fiscal year by both the Legislative Budget Committee and by Gov. Phil Bryant call for less spending than the budget passed in the 2017 session for the current fiscal year.
And likewise, the budget passed during the 2017 session spent less than was appropriated by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor during the 2016 session.
Bryant and the Republican leadership of the Legislature contend they are doing what their constituents want by cutting the size of state government.
Democrats contend the size of the cuts, impacting the departments of mental health and health as well as the universities and community colleges, have been too large and have negatively impacted needed services.
In the 2015 session, the total state support budget was just under $6.4 billion. The 14-member Legislative Budget Committee, which includes Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, has proposed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year of just under $6 billion. Bryant’s budget proposal is slightly more than $6 billion in state-support funds.
Those budget proposals will serve as a guideline as the 2018 session begins Jan. 2. One of the primary focuses of the session, of course, will be to build and pass a budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1 to fund everything from public health to education, to public safety and multiple other items.
“You are going to see Republicans continuing to work to shrink the size of government and pass a balanced budget,” Reeves said of the upcoming session.
The second-term lieutenant governor cited efforts in multiple past years to halt (in most instances) the purchase of new vehicles by state agencies.
“Previous efforts saved us about $20 million total. I would like to implement more efficiency measures like this to save tax dollars,” he said in an emailed response to questions. But the cuts have been much deeper than just the limiting of the purchase of new vehicles. There have been multiple layoffs at many state agencies and some programs have been eliminated.
Many state agencies have absorbed cuts of more than 10 percent in recent years. The cuts have been necessitated by a significant slowdown in state tax collections.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the tax cuts, which already have totaled more than $300 million and will be more than $700 million annually when fully enacted in 10 years, have been made at a time legislators should have been addressing needs, such as a crumbling infrastructure system.
“There has to be a stopping point somewhere of the raid on state revenue through tax cuts,” Holland said. “This year after year of tax cuts is just bizarre. We have real needs out there that need to be met.”
But Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, said, “I will tell you from what I hear back home from constituents they appreciate us trying to be more accountable and more efficient with their tax dollars.”
The budget will be one of the last items taken up during the upcoming 90-day session.
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