Mississippi tightens its belt for new state budget year

Politics

FILE – In this June 12, 2020 file photo Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, presents an appropriation bill for debate in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi government is on track to spend less during the new budget year than it did in the one that just ended, as questions remain about the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Hopson told reporters Wednesday, July 1, 2020 “I’m not aware of any agency that would actually be forced to lay off employees because of cuts”. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi government is on track to spend less during the new budget year than it did during the one that just ended, as questions remain about the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuts to most state agencies will be about 3% to 5%.

“I’m not aware of any agency that would actually be forced to lay off employees because of cuts,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson told reporters late Wednesday at the Capitol.

The state-funded portion of the budget for the year that began Wednesday is just under $6 billion. To avoid deeper cuts, legislators are taking $55 million from the state’s $550 million rainy day fund — money that has been set aside over several years to provide a cushion for hard times.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has the power to pull an additional $50 million out of the rainy day fund, if needed, to balance books for the budget year that ended Tuesday. Wrapping up financial matters for a state budget year typically takes several weeks.

Legislators left the Capitol late Wednesday for an undetermined amount of time, and they did so without setting a budget for the Department of Marine Resources. The House and Senate are having a dispute over spending of money the state receives from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Without a budget, the Department of Marine Resources is shut down just ahead of the July 4 weekend, which is a big time for fishing and boating.

“I’m shocked,” Reeves said Thursday on social media. “I’m scrambling to find a way to allow fishing on the coast — but this team handles missing persons and capsized vessels. They do water rescues.”

The governor said work is being done “on a short-term funding solution to fix their mess.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn have the option of calling legislators back to the Capitol as soon as next week.

Gunn said Thursday that the dispute between the two chambers is over who has authority to spend $40 million a year that Mississippi receives from energy production in the Gulf. He said until now, the governor has controlled that money within the Department of Marine Resources budget.

Gunn said the House is taking a firm position that all dollars collected by the state should be budgeted by the Legislature.

“We have great concerns about the governor — not just this governor, but any governor — using them for a slush fund,” Gunn said.

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