Meridian Star

Columns

September 15, 2013

Innovative ideas and setting priorities key to continue to reduce the size of State government 

MERIDIAN — Planning Mississippi’s next budget begins Monday when the Joint Legislative Budget Committee convenes to hear requests from key agencies. To fully appreciate the task at hand, one must understand the recent history.

    The Legislature, led by Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, and Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, passed two consecutive balanced budgets that only spent 98 percent of expected revenue, setting aside 2 percent for a rainy day. 

    We increased funding for all levels of public education (from universities to public schools) while maintaining or reducing funding for virtually every other agency.

    Even the Legislature found cost savings. First, we saved $58,000 by reducing the number of days the Legislature met. We also saved $6,500 by simply changing from legal-sized paper to letter-sized paper at the Capitol.

    In addition, the Legislature saved taxpayers $9.8 million by not purchasing new cars in Fiscal Year 2013. Unfortunately, my efforts to continue a moratorium on vehicle purchases were not successful this year; I will push for this freeze on wasteful spending in the next session.

    While savings have been found across state government in recent years and expenditures have increased less than 2 percent annually, the other side of our income statement improved.  Revenues increased slightly above 5 percent annually in each of the last two years.  In fact, due to conservative revenue estimates that were criticized at the time, the state ended the most recent fiscal year with an additional $300-million surplus.

    However, I must warn special interests groups and agency directors that are so quick to clamor for any surplus … NOT SO FAST. State law guides these funds, which will be split between our Rainy Day funds and an account for building repairs.

    The fund for building repairs is being used to honor our commitment to taxpayers that we would stop issuing long-term debt to pay for new air conditioners and leaky roofs. 

    In fact, the state is now paying cash for repairs that were traditionally “bonded.” This year alone, the state will spend $49.2 million on repairs rather than relying on new debt. That means universities and colleges can spend $15.2 million immediately to begin work on campus improvements.

    Reducing government spending is not only trimming waste; we must continue to lower taxpayers’ overall debt burden. That is why this year, the Legislature paid off or repealed almost $500 million in bonds and only issued $199 million for projects.

    In 2012, the Legislature did not authorize any new debt.

    In addition to the aforementioned commitments, other needs must be addressed. For example, the state’s prison population continues to increase, putting pressure on our Corrections budget. Taxpayers expect to have a Correctional system that maintains the safety of the public without bankrupting the state. 

    I expect the Division of Medicaid to ask for almost $1 billion in state funds – one-fifth of the general fund operating budget. Remember, this request is to simply keep the Medicaid services operating as usual and does not include expansion of Obamacare, which the Legislature opposed. 

    Taxpayers deserve a Medicaid program that provides innovative ways to deliver care while reining in spending.

    This week will be our first look at agency directors’ wish lists for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014. Some agency leaders will recognize our conservative philosophy and the fiscal reality the state faces while a few directors will paint a dismal picture they believe can only be cured with more tax dollars.

    I hope agency executives will present new ideas for finding efficiencies – not simply ask for more of your money. Taxpayers should demand the same.

    To contact Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, call (601) 359-3200 or write him at ltgov@senate.ms.gov or P.O. Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215.

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