March 25, 2014 10:19:20 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi legislators expect to be busy this week working out final details of a $6 billion budget for the coming year.
Among other things, they need to agree on how much to spend on a teacher pay raise plan and whether to fund training for a new group of Highway Patrol troopers.
They're also trying to find ways to stop using money that's available only a single year at a time, such as lawsuit settlements, to pay for ongoing state expenses, such as salaries. Legislators have relied on "one-time money" for more than a decade, but financial analysts say that habit could hurt the state's credit rating.
"I think we have a realistic chance of passing a budget in the next seven or eight days which only spends recurring revenue on recurring expenses," Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in an interview Monday.
Reeves is calling a Tuesday morning meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, a 14-member group that determines how much money the state has available to spend each year.
Based on relatively strong state economic performance the past several months, he said the committee is expected to increase the estimate of how much revenue the state will collect during fiscal 2014, which ends June 30, and during fiscal 2015, which begins July 1. Increasing those numbers will give House and Senate negotiators more flexibility as they try to stretch state dollars to pay for everything from public schools to mental health services to prisons.
Saturday is the deadline for negotiators to file the final version of more than 100 budget bills. After that, the bills go to the full 122-member House and 52-member Senate for consideration by early next week. If the bills pass, they move to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has cautioned lawmakers not to overspend.
Bryant has said a trooper training school tops his wish list. He said last week that the state is already about 150 troopers short of what it needs, plus 120 troopers are currently eligible to retire.
"We know that we must train more troopers. If we don't, people will die," Bryant said in a news release last week. "Protecting public safety is the foremost function of government, and we owe it to Mississippians, and to the troopers who are already stretching to cover the state, to get this done."
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said late last week that the House and Senate were only about $11 million apart on recommendations for how much revenue the state will have available to spend during fiscal 2015. The meeting Tuesday should help the two sides settle that difference and agree on a revenue figure that will be the basis for the final days of the budget-writing process that started months ago.
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