Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden (R) Meridian, said Friday a strong surge in revenues has the state budget up by $50 million at the end of December.
Snowden said he looked at the numbers as the calendar year of 2014 ended from figures posted by the Mississippi Legislative Budget Office. The December figures, however, represent just the first half of the state's fiscal year 2015 budget.
Snowden said one reason why the state is enjoying its success was the financial discipline the Legislature showed in its 2014 term that ended last April. The 2015 Mississippi Legislature session begins Tuesday in Jackson.
"We got our budget house in order," Snowden said. "We ended our 90-day session with the goal of maintaining our fiscal integrity with regard to financial affairs. I think we did that well. Now, revenues are up, $50 million up at the end of December."
Snowden said the state's general fund has finally gained structural balance for the first time since the 2009 recession and that with $409 million deposited into the state's 'Rainy Day' fund, there is no necessity for the upcoming 2016 budget for the 2 percent set aside. The Mississippi Legislature has operated its budget by appropriating only 98 percent of anticipated revenues.
"What this has done is help us free up money for spending," Snowden said. "We were able to put $2.4 billion toward K-12 education, which resulted in a pay raise for state teachers."
Education will be one of the key areas to tackle again when the Legislature convenes.
"It always begins with education," Snowden said. "Any additional money that we get, is going there first."
Another area of focus will be on state contracts. In November then Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner Chris Epps was served a 49-count indictment in which he was accused of taking bribes in return for hundreds of millions in prison contracts.
"One of the things we have to look at early is reforming contracting at the state level," Snowden said. "The situation with the Department of Corrections has shined a light on our practices and procedures. We need to make it tighter."
Democratic House Rep. Charles Young of Meridian said his party will focus its attention this legislative session on restoring cuts in education and health care.
"My two biggest priorities are education and health care," Young said. "The budget recommendations regarding teacher raises in the last session, could have been better. I am also really concerned about the Department of Health."
Young said cuts made to the Department of Health will hurt Mississippi citizens more in the long run, because a good percentage of crimes committed come from people suffering from mental and physical illnesses.
"I'm committed to restoring the cuts made in our mental health services," Young said. "You can make a correlation between those cuts in services and crime. When you cut mental health agencies, a lot of those folks, who don't get treatment, then go out and commit offenses. You shouldn't cry about spilled milk on that when you can do something about it on the front end."