Better-than-expected revenue collections could affect budget process

JACKSON — Top Mississippi lawmakers say that because of relatively robust tax collections, they may increase the estimate of how much money the state can spend during the coming fiscal year.

Yet Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said yesterday that even if the revenue estimate increases, state agencies shouldn’t expect their spending to rise.

So far, budget writers have recommended cuts for most agencies for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. Increasing the budget estimate could simply make some of the cuts smaller, Reeves said.

“It reduces the size of the cuts. It won’t eliminate the needs for cuts,” Reeves told The Associated Press.

Tax collections for the first eight months of the current budget year are 4.8 percent above where they were for the same period a year ago, Reeves said. Months ago, experts predicted tax collections would be flat year-to-year.

Lawmakers originally estimated Mississippi would spend $4.6 billion during the coming year.

State economist Darrin Webb today will speak to members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee about state, national and international economic trends. Committee members will use that information as they decide how much to increase the budget estimate.

Top lawmakers would not say yesterday when they might vote to increase the budget estimate. In the past, lawmakers have waited until the final weeks of a legislative session to adjust the budget figure, saying they wanted as much information as possible in hopes of making an accurate guess about future tax collections.

“We’ve got to see how big a pie we’ve got before we can really get down to specifics on our general fund appropriations,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale.

March 28 is the deadline for the House and Senate to pass the first version of budget bills, then the two chambers trade proposals. April 30 is the deadline to adopt the final version of the budget.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said writing a state spending plan will be challenging because agencies have requested more money than is available, as they do most years.

“Everyone knows that the budget is tight,” Gunn said Monday during a forum sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government.

Gunn said he expects most agencies to receive about the same percentage of the state budget as they’ve received the past several years.

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