Meridian Star

March 31, 2014

Miss. lawmaker work on $6 million budget

JEFF AMY, Associated Press
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers must approve dozens of bills in the state's $6 billion budget before a Monday deadline.

Representatives and senators will be getting first looks at some measures for the budget year that begins July 1, because place-holder bills, filed Saturday, were sent back to committees to be rewritten Sunday.

Several dozen spending bills were passed Sunday, mainly for agencies that raise money through fees or taxes that don't flow through the state's general fund.

Bills passed by the full House and Senate will go to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant for his consideration.

Some House Democrats objected to a plan that gave pay raises to state employees who haven't gotten a raise in four years or longer, saying it's unfair to skip other employees.

"I'm disappointed for state employees," said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. "I think there's a better way to do it."

Employees who make less than $30,000 a year and have had the same pay level for the last four years will get $1,000 automatically. Those with frozen salaries of more than $30,000 could get a pay raise of up to 5 percent, if their agency has the money and gets approval from the state Personnel Board.

House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said the plan was not a "panacea."

"It's for a handful of people," he said of the mandated pay raise, but predicted agencies would grant widespread raises.

Also, it's likely that some lawmakers will contest plans to add only $10 million to the state's education funding formula, leaving it $255 million short of what the formula calls for.

"It's obvious the people in charge of the Legislature have no intention of funding public education," said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who led a move on the Senate floor to increase money for the formula by $60 million.

Many supporters of more money for education say lawmakers don't need to put the legal limit of $410 million into the rainy day fund, the state's largest savings account.

Frierson said that filling the rainy day fund was a good move though, because it allowed lawmakers to waive a requirement that the state set aside 2 percent of general revenue to cover potential shortfalls. That freed up money to spend in 2015, he said, and means the state budget is in "structural balance," without using temporary money to plug holes.

"I think it's significant," he said. "I think we ought to be outside shooting fireworks."