Lawmakers preparing for special session even without official notice

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Gov. Phil Bryant

Gil Ford photography

Gov. Phil Bryant

Lawmakers and lobbyists across the state have their bags packed as speculation is swirling that Gov. Phil Bryant will call a special session of the Legislature this week to address a potential state budget shortfall.

The governor, who is the only person with legal authority to call a special session, has not confirmed whether he will summon lawmakers back under the dome. Just 10 days from the end of the current fiscal year, economists believe the state will fall short of its revenue projections, likely meaning the state’s budget would not be balanced.

Four lawmakers and three lobbyists told Mississippi Today Monday morning they are prepared to travel to the Capitol Friday should Bryant call a special session.

“Gov. Bryant is carefully watching revenues versus expenses for state government and will take proper actions to balance the budget if needed,” Bryant’s spokesperson, Clay Chandler, said. “That includes his constitutional right of calling a special session, if necessary.”

State law requires the governor to keep the budget balanced. Going into June, the state had collected $203.3 million in revenue less than expected to that point. In order to balance the budget, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said, the state needs to collect between $725 million and $750 million in June revenue. That total would be at least a 13-year record.

Reeves’ office said Monday morning they have not been made aware of any special session.

If there is a shortfall at the end of the month, Bryant likely would have to move money from reserve accounts to the general fund. Six separate funds totaling $481.1 million, including $393 million left in the Rainy Day Fund, can be used to offset any potential shortfalls at the end of this month.

Bryant already has pulled $45.2 million from the Rainy Day Fund this fiscal year to offset lower-than-expected revenue, but he only has the legal authority to pull $50 million per fiscal year from that fund. If more than $4.8 million is needed from that fund to balance the budget, the Legislature would have to convene in Jackson to sign off on that action.

Many lawmakers and state elected officials have called for a special session for sundry reasons. Most recently, Democratic lawmakers publicly urged a special session to deal with budget concerns for both the current fiscal year and next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Another point of contention for officials has been the passing of a law that sweeps certain special funds into the general fund and disallows inter-agency transfers. Numerous agency heads have publicly criticized state leaders as they’ve planned their upcoming fiscal year budgets. The Legislative Budget Office expects to use more than $54 million in special fund sweeps in this current fiscal year’s budget, according to a report the office released last week.

“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 Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who is House minority leader.

  • Charles Pearce

    As the Legislature sweeps special funds into the general fund, expect more top-level retirements and resignations at state agencies.