Senate hears grim budget projections

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The Senate Appropriations Committee chairman offered a sobering perspective on the state’s budget for the next fiscal year on Tuesday, noting if revenue projections continue to stall, more cuts are possible.

Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today

Senate Appropriations Committee chair Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale

“This year is just so different because the revenue is not moving any,” said Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale.

Last month, Clarke, and House Appropriations Chairman Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, told a radio show cuts may be necessary after January collection reports showed an $18 million shortfall.

Gov. Phil Bryant already has ordered cuts in Fiscal Year 2017. In September, he cut around 1.5 percent from nearly every state agency to make up for a $57 million accounting error from the Legislature’s 2016 appropriations process. He ordered a $50.9 million cut in January, which will affect most agencies by about 1.45 percent.

Clarke said he is hopeful revenue projections will change, but the Legislature will be forced to work with the original projections made in December 2016 if they remain stagnant.

“If revenues don’t change you’re looking at it right now,” Clarke said, referring to the Senate projections presented at an appropriations committee meeting Tuesday. “We’re just reshuffling the pie.”

To cut costs, 1,999 state jobs that have been vacant for at least six months would be eliminated from the budget. The Legislature also anticipates roughly $50 million in settlement money from Attorney General Jim Hood’s office, Clarke said.

The Senate version of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget falls in line with what legislative leaders proposed in December — the $6.1 billion budget shows cuts for most agencies.

Clarke said he intends to adhere to the 98 Percent Rule, which is required by law but legislators suspended in several recent years so that total proposed expenditures exceeded the General Fund revenue estimates. Following the rule makes room for two percent of the overall budget to be set aside into reserve funds.