Governor’s prosposing to cut most agencies by 1.5 percent

JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant is proposing that most state agencies take a 1.5 percent budget cut during fiscal 2014, which begins next July 1.

Republican Bryant released his $5.8-billion spending plan yesterday at the Capitol. It’s 2.3 percent larger than the current year’s budget of nearly $5.7 billion.

Legislative leaders release their own fiscal 2014 plan Dec. 11, and there’s an April 1 deadline for the House and Senate to adopt a budget.

Bryant also recommended level funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the complex funding formula for schools.

And he is seeking an additional $24 million for specific education programs, including $15 million for literacy training for teachers. Bryant wants more emphasis on ensuring children can read at grade-level standards by third grade.

“Mississippi cannot continue to allow the status quo social promotion of these children just to move them along the assembly line,” Bryant said.

He would exempt several parts of government from cuts, including public safety programs, the National Guard and University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Legislators have a long tradition of ignoring governors’ budgets, but many say they’ll examine Bryant’s plan.

“If he’s got good ideas, we’ll look at them,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.

Experts said this week that the state is expected to collect just over $5 billion in revenue during fiscal 2014. The governor and legislators generally expand the budget by dipping into reserves and using sources of money that are available only one year at a time, such as payments from lawsuit settlements.

Bryant said his budget would reduce the amount of “one-time money” by $93 million.

Bryant said he is requesting $878.4 million for Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the needy. However, he said the program’s expenses might top $921 million.

The budget does not include any money for administrative expenses to expand Medicaid, which is an option starting Jan. 1, 2014, under the federal health insurance law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in June, it said states could choose whether to expand Medicaid, and Bryant says he opposes it. About 1 in 5 Mississippi residents already is enrolled in the program, and estimates show an expansion could take enrollment to 1 in 4.

The governor’s proposed education spending increases also include $1 million for dropout intervention programs, $2 million in scholarship programs for high-achieving students who want to become teachers, $3 million to expand the Mississippi Building Blocks pilot program for early childhood education in some parts of the state and $2 million for a merit-pay pilot program for teachers. He said four school districts have volunteered to participate in the merit pay program: Rankin County, Lamar County, Gulfport and Clarksdale.

Bryant’s budget includes an additional $8.5 million in the coming year for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, with some of that going toward training new troopers.

Bryant proposes budgeting an additional $29 million for the state Department of Corrections for the current budget year, which ends June 30, to help with the expense of housing inmates.

“If you’re going to break the law, you are going to do the time,” he said.

 

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