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Day two of budget hearings reinforces a theme

Three more agencies brought their budget requests to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee this morning, and all three received the same message other agencies got yesterday: There just isn’t a whole lot of money to go around.

State Treasurer Tate Reeves led off the day’s proceedings with a $3.3 million request, which is about $296,000 more than his office got in fiscal year 2010. The extra cost, Reeves said, would fill two new positions in his office and pay for the purchase and repair of technology to track the state’s finances.

As he has with every agency that requested an increase in money, Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, asked for a justification.

Reeves was ready.

“You can’t just look at FY10 versus FY11,” he said. “My agency took an 18 percent cut (in FY10 compared with FY09) while other agencies took a 6 percent cut.”

Budget numbers back up Reeves’ claims. In FY09, Reeves office received $3.55 million. In FY10 the Treasurer’s office got $3.024 million.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann asked for a 4.7 percent decrease, prompting Hewes to jokingly ask if there was something wrong with Hosemann.

“We’re just doing a lot more with the same people,” Hosemann responded. There were several potential revenue streams for the state that were not included in Hosemann’s $12.5 million request. One involved Hosemann’s signaling that he would push the Legislature to pass a law that required limited liability corporations to register annually with his office. Currently, only corporations have to file annual updates. LLCs only have to register when they’re formed, and aren’t required to file after that. Hosemann said the measure would protect consumers.

“(Unregistered LLCs) become a vehicle for people to hide things,” he said, citing the trouble some cemeteries and funeral homes have found themselves in with their pre-need insurance.

Ed LeGrand, the executive director of the Department of Mental Health, asked for $50 million more than the agency received in FY10, but the vast majority of that is comprised of federal stimulus money and increased state obligations to Medicaid-funded services at the state’s 15 community mental health centers. At a minimum, LeGrand said it would take $10 million of that $50 million for the CMHCs to operate at the level they are now.

“I don’t anticipate” that the full $50 million will be allocated, LeGrand said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said even rounding up the $10 million would be “very difficult.”

LeGrand said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Congress wouldn’t allow the state departments of mental health to “fall off a cliff” when it came to the disappearance of stimulus money and the modifications to Medicaid matching rules.

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