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Level funding would keep programs, services intact

MDA pleased with budget progress in Legislature

JACKSON — So far, so good. That’s what MDA comptroller Lynda Dutton reported the day after the Senate passed SB 2940, which will give the state’s economic development arm a $25.3-million budget for the new fiscal year.

“Considering the state of the economy and the challenges that the Legislature has in front of them, the agency is pleased with the results,” said Dutton. “We did ask for a little over $4 million in additional special needs funding that we felt would help the economy. For instance, we asked for money for an image campaign. With what lawmakers are facing money-wise, we realize there aren’t additional funds to spread around.”

MDA officials are pleased with the appropriations package with one exception, said Dutton.

“The legislative budget recommendation reduced our personnel positions count by 31,” she said. “The Senate restored it by 16, and those 16 are funded by federal and special sources. They did not restore 15 positions funded with general funds. In the past, they have restored positions even when they did not restore funding, so our preference is, even if they can’t restore the funding for those 15 positions, that they restore the positions. That allows us flexibility to move positions around or change positions up depending on our program or project needs. For example, we have an attorney position now under contract. Some positions are critical to the agency. When we go to discuss our funding situation on the House side, it’s one of those things we’ll request in excess of what the Senate has passed.”

The appropriations bill the Senate passed on Feb. 19 represented total state funding sources — a combination of general state funds and special budget contingency funds — of $25.3 million. In FY2000 and FY2001, MDA was funded solely through state funds totaling $29.7 million and $29.2 million, respectively. In FY2002 and FY2003, because of budget shortfalls, a combination of general funds and special budget contingency funds was used to fund the state agency $25.8 million and $25.3 million, respectively.

“Early on this year, the Legislative Budget Office (LBO) and their analysts worked hard to try to find other funding sources available to use for appropriations,” said Dutton. “Overall, we’ve seen a more concerted effort this year between all parties to procure the funding necessary for the state to compete in an international marketplace.”

Historically, the Senate passes out LBO recommendations, and the House follows suit with a few differences, and funding decisions are made during the conference held the last week of the legislative session. That’s when the true revenue projection for the fiscal year is revealed, said Dutton.

“They didn’t wait until conference this time,” she said. “We’ve explained the value of MDA’s programs and services, and we truly believe they’ve shown their commitment to economic development.”

Sen. Bill Minor (D-Holly Springs) introduced a bill that would give MDA access to additional funds without legislative approval. SB 2322 would give the department the go-ahead to request up to $500,000 from the bond commission to fund special needs involving the recruitment of a new project. At press time, House Ways and Means committee members were reviewing it.

“For instance, if we have a company like Nissan that shows an interest in the state, and we need to go out and purchase options or request engineering surveys or provide attorney support, then we have the ability to borrow money, especially because budget cuts haven’t allowed us money for extra expenditures,” said Dutton.

MDA spokesperson Sherry Vance added, “By doing this, the Legislature is saying they will give us the opportunity to compete by providing us with a financial option.”

Vance and Dutton don’t anticipate any problems with the appropriations bill moving through the House.

Information about current legislative bill status is online at http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

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