Questions dog 2017 budget

Print More

Questions remain about the state’s fiscal year 2017 budget, despite the release this week of the final budget document detailing agency appropriations.

The state budget for the 2017 fiscal year, approved by the Legislature in April, was released Wednesday after months of delays and questions from state agency heads and lawmakers.

The document details cuts made in a majority of state agencies as lawmakers attempted to offset lower-than-expected revenue from the current fiscal year.

A handful of agencies had their budgets cut 20 percent or more from last year. The Mississippi Developmental Authority’s budget was cut 47.3 percent, or $18.6 million. The Veterans Affairs Board was cut 25.2 percent, or $1.7 million. The State Medical Examiner’s office was cut 23.7 percent, or $216,000.

Just hours before lawmakers approved the budget, they passed a bill that pulls certain fees and assessments from some agencies’ special funds into the general fund. The new law also eliminates interagency transfers, such as one agency charging another rent or Internet and technology services.

That law, officials said, delayed the finalization of next year’s budget. The budget summary released this week was released unusually late in the year. In the previous four years, the latest the same report had been released was May 8.

Because of the delays and unanswered questions from budget officials, some agency heads say it is still unclear how the special fund sweeps will affect their budget for next year, which begins July 1.

The Legislative Budget Office did not break down how special funds will affect agencies’ budgets; instead, a net total budget for each agency was provided. While those totals may show an increase or decrease year-over-year, the special fund sweeps may have a different effect on the actual moneys the agencies have at their disposal.

For example, the Capital Post-Conviction Counsel, which provides services for indigent persons after they have received the death penalty, received the second-highest increase year-over-year at 175.2 percent, according to the new budget documents.

Louwlynn Vanzetta Williams, director of the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel.

Mississippi Today

Louwlynn Vanzetta Williams, director of the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel

But director Louwlynn Vanzetta Williams said the new law has left doubt about how much money they will actually have to spend. That department pays for all the documents it retrieves such as birth certificates from the Department of Vital Records, information from the Department of Corrections and from open-records requests.

Williams estimates that between and quarter and a third of the agency’s budget is spent on document fees and she is unsure how much of the $1.8 million the Legislature appropriated to her agency will go towards documents and other inter-agency fees.

In theory, because the new law ends practices such as agencies paying rent to each other, Williams could use that money for other purposes now that they won’t have to pay fees they did last year. However, questions remain and have been asked publicly by numerous agency heads. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said last week that clarifications to the law may have to be made during a legislative session.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

“Certain state agencies who don’t like the amount of budgeting authority they got this year and they don’t like having less autonomy for spending that money, they’re creating issues,” Reeves said. “There are some legitimate issues, and there are others that are created, all of which can and will be dealt with during the fiscal year.”

On paper, some agencies received major increases from last year, according to the budget report.

The Department of Marine Resources, which manages the state’s public trust wetlands, adjacent uplands and waterfront areas, received a 261.1 percent increase, or $2.9 million, from last year. The Department of Finance and Administration’s support division received a 158.2 percent increase, or $25.3 million. The Attorney General’s Office received a 124.6 percent increase, or $15.6 million.

Attorney General Jim Hood, who has been perhaps the most outspoken state official about next year’s budget — at one point of calling the special fund sweeps illegal — says his office won’t really see a net increase.

Attorney General Jim Hood

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Attorney General Jim Hood

“State agencies stand to lose $20 million in federal funding because the federal government will not reimburse under some grants unless agencies have a receipt for rent or services paid to another agency in an arms-length transaction,” Hood said in statement in early May.

Other departments or projects that were funded last year like a roads and bridge program and the Pearl River Valley water supply district lost 100 percent of their funding from last year. Similarly, other departments that were not funded last year, like the state fire academy and personnel board, were funded this year after receiving no funding last year.

Largest cuts, according to net totals provided by LBO:

Mississippi Developmental Authority — 47.3 percent or $18.6 million

Archives and History — 35.5 percent or $4.9 million

Veterans’ Affairs Board — 25.2 percent or $1.7 million

Mississippi River Parkway Commission (merged with MDA) — 24 percent or $6,311

State Medical Examiner — 23.7 percent or $216,959

Office of Supreme Court Services — 18.9 percent or $1.5 million

Department of Revenue – Support — 18.1 percent or $9.9 million

Agriculture and Commerce – Support — 17.9 percent or $1.6 million

Supreme Court – Court of Appeals — 17.7 percent or $997,916

Board of Animal Health — 16.1 percent or $230, 191

Human Services – Consolidated — 15.9 percent or $11.3 million

Public Safety – Juvenile Facility Monitoring — 15.6 percent or $10,940

Emergency Management Agency — 15.3 percent or $581,371

Forestry Commission — 14.6 percent or $2.7 million

Arts Commission — 11 percent or $218,688

Ethics Commission — 10.1 percent or $66,539

ITS – Wireless Commission — 9 percent or $896,983

 

Largest increases, according to LB O report:

Capital Post Conviction Counsel — +175.2 percent or $1.1 million

Department of Finance and Administration – Support — +158.2 percent or $25.3 million

Attorney General’s Office — +124.6 percent or $15.6 million

Department of Marine Resources — +261.1 percent or $2.9 million

Supreme Court Administrative Office of Courts — +73.9 percent or $5.4 million

Public Safety – Support Services — +64.7 percent or $1.7 million