Mississippi scrambles to set budget after missing deadline

Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, left, speaks with Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistribution, Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, left, speaks with Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistribution, Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

PA

Mississippi lawmakers worked Monday on budget proposals after missing deadlines due to a lengthy dispute over a tax cut plan.

They were also negotiating final versions of several bills, including one to reinvigorate an initiative process so people could petition to put proposed laws on the statewide ballot. The state Supreme Court ruled in May that Mississippi’s previous initiative process was invalid because it required petitioners to collect signatures in outdated congressional districts.

The new state fiscal year begins July 1. Lawmakers were supposed to table the final finance bills on Saturday, but talks bogged down until they finished work on the tax cut.

The House and Senate on Sunday passed a bill providing for the state’s largest-ever income tax cut. It will go to Republican Governor Tate Reeves for his signature in the coming days.

Lawmakers are expected to spend between $6 billion and $7 billion in public funds, plus billions more in federal funds, in the new budget year — an increase from the current year, but not substantial.

Key lawmakers have said the budget will include a pay rise for teachers and many state employees. Lawmakers have already voted to authorize average increases of about $5,100 for teachers and $2,000 for teaching assistants. Some state employees are on track to receive pay raises based on a survey that showed their jobs paid less than market value.

The House and Senate must also agree on plans to spend some of the $1.8 billion Mississippi receives from the federal government for pandemic relief. Much of that money is expected to go to infrastructure projects, such as expanding broadband in rural areas and improving water and sewer systems across the state.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Clinton Republican, said lawmakers would likely spend about $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion of federal relief money. He said the rest would be set aside “just for the unknown”.

Some of the relief money would go to cities or counties with the expectation that those local governments would invest $1 in infrastructure projects for every $1 of federal money they receive through the state, said House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, a Republican from the West. Cities and counties have also received their own direct payments of federal pandemic relief money, and that money could be used to match dollars flowing through the state.

Rural water associations have not received federal relief money, but those associations could apply for some of the state money, White said.

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