If a record monthly revenue is not generated this month, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s hands may be tied and a special session may be necessary to balance the state budget.
The governor is required by law to keep the state’s budget balanced at all times. To offset budget shortfalls this fiscal year, which ends June 30, Bryant has twice made mid-year budget cuts and twice pulled from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, taking a total of $45.2 million. To date, there is $349.7 million left in the fund.
But state law caps the amount a governor can pull from that fund at $50 million in any fiscal year. If more than $4.8 million from the Rainy Day Fund is needed to get the state in the black later this month, Bryant will be forced to call lawmakers to Jackson for a special legislative session to give him authority to pull additional funds.
Bryant, the only state official with authority to call a special session, has hinted at the possibility of calling lawmakers back under the Capitol dome to address the budget. Just 15 days from the end of the fiscal year, additional budget cuts are out of the question.
“It looks like we’re really going to be short,” State Economist Darrin Webb said Tuesday. “As we get closer to the end of the month, the governor’s going to have to make a decision and have to say, ‘We’re going to miss it.’”
Webb said the challenge for the governor will be determining how short the state will fall at the end of the month. Variables like unpaid services and bills will make it difficult for officials to determine exactly how much money the state will need at the end of June, which could force the legislature to give more spending power to the governor than is actually needed. For instance, Webb said, the legislature might give Bryant the authority to take $100 million from the fund even though $50 million is needed.
“They may give him a big number so we will end the year balanced,” Webb said.
Mississippi Democrats, including House minority leader Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, have publicly urged Bryant in recent weeks to call a special session to address budget concerns for both this current fiscal year and next fiscal year.
“The only way to stop this runaway train and restore fiscal sanity is for the governor to call a special session to deal with this budget mess ASAP,” said Baria.
Bryant’s office did not respond to requests for comment regarding a potential special session.
A report released Wednesday by the Legislative Budget Office sheds more light on the state’s budget woes. The report, which breaks down cash on hand versus expenditures over the past year, shows a balanced budget for this fiscal year. According to report, the state will have $61.5 million in the bank that can transfer over to next fiscal year.
But the report accounts for revenue projections in June to be met. Last week, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Mississippi must garner between $725-750 million in June revenue to balance the state budget. That would be a 13-year record.
In a Department of Revenue document obtained by Mississippi Today, the state was short $887.8 million in total revenue for the year going into the month of June based on initial revenue estimates from April 2015.
Since April 2015, however, revenue estimates were revised downward two different times, the state collected one-time moneys like an Attorney General’s Office settlement and Gov. Phil Bryant made two separate mid-year budget cuts. And Bryant took $45.2 million from the Rainy Day Fund this fiscal year. Factoring those revisions into the 2016 budget, the state was short about $203 million going into June.
Additionally, the state will drop into this year’s general fund more than $54 million obtained through a controversial law signed in April that sweeps assessments and fees from special fund agencies into the general fund. That $54 million is money collected from those assessments and fees but not spent by the end of the fiscal year, said Laura Hipp, spokesperson for Reeves.
Seventeen state agencies, which were once designated special fund agencies at least in part, will have moneys swept into the general fund under the new law. Agency heads have cried foul over the law, claiming the cash reserves they have had at their disposal should remain in their departments instead of the state’s general fund.
It is unclear when Bryant might call a special session. Reeves has said repeatedly he does not believe a special session is necessary this year, and any budget concerns can be addressed when lawmakers meet for the 2017 regular session in January.