Mississippi lawmakers resolve budget for Marine Resources

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Legislature returned to the Capitol on Monday and adopted a budget for the state Department of Marine Resources, nearly two months after the July 1 start of the state fiscal year.

The department had been run under executive powers, but its leaders warned that all 175 employees might face furloughs if legislators failed to set a budget by Sept. 1.

House and Senate negotiators on Monday resolved a conflict over the part of the budget that had put the whole thing on hold — a plan for spending $46 million in federal money that Mississippi receives for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Legislative leaders said $26 million was already obligated. The other $20 million is split evenly. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and executive branch agencies will decide how to spend $10 million. Legislators will have spending power over the other $10 million, and they will decide how to spend that portion next year.

“Glad to be able to work out a compromise on it, and I think it’s going to work out well,” said one of the negotiators, Republican Sen. Philip Moran of Bay St. Louis.

In the past, the governor has controlled the lease money. But Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said Aug. 11 that the Mississippi Constitution makes clear that legislators have the power to set budgets.

The House and Senate on Monday both passed the final version of Marine Resources budget, in House Bill 1726. It was the final part of the overall state budget.

The department said in a memo that its Marine Patrol is fully staffed through Aug. 31 but is operating on a “minimal budget.”

The department’s budget for the year that ended June 30 was $29.5 million. Just over $1 million of that came from the state’s general fund. The rest came from the federal government or from other sources such as saltwater fishing licenses and off-road fuel taxes.

Legislators were meeting on the same day two storms were threatening to bring heavy rain and damaging winds to coastal areas in Mississippi and other states. Tropical Storm Marco was weakening as it neared the Louisiana coast Monday. Tropical Storm Laura was near Cuba and was projected to develop into a hurricane as it moves northward through the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Department of Marine Resources plays a critical role in hurricane preparedness as well as hurricane response,” Reeves said Monday. “They do an excellent job. Their law enforcement personnel step up every single time that we have an issue.”

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