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Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday that Mississippi’s current fiscal year budget will fall short at least $120 million because of a bill that pulled some special funds into the general fund.
The bill in question, called the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act, pulls $187 million of existing special funds, or moneys set aside for specific projects or temporary departments, into the general fund and eliminates interagency charges. According to Hood, at least $79.4 million of that money cannot be swept by law.
Hood’s office regularly issues opinions to state agency heads who have questions about state law. In recent weeks, Hood has opined on how the new law will affect agencies’ budgets and which special funds they have the legal ability to keep.
The $120 million figure Hood discussed Thursday came from sifting through around 20 agencies’ funds, trust funds and past budgets.
“We’re looking at a bare minimum $120 million deficit,” Hood said Thursday at a press gathering. “And there’s more. There’s losses of federal funds we don’t know the answer to yet. The problem is when the legislators can’t tell you. The leaders can’t tell you. They obviously do not know. When people don’t know about the budget, there’s trouble in the making.”
Legislative leaders, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, have admitted that there are issues with the law to work through when lawmakers convene for the regular session in January. On the House floor during last week’s special session, former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, apologized for the confusion caused by the law – which he and Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, conceptualized.
Hood’s opinions to different state agencies regarding the special funds law has received scrutiny from legislative leaders in recent weeks. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who championed and supported the special fund sweeps bill, said Hood’s opinions were no more than a political move.
“Obama’s attorney general in Mississippi takes the same approach that Obama’s attorney general in Washington takes: Ignore the law if it doesn’t meet your political views,” Reeves said in a statement last month. “The attorney general wants to double dip his spending, ignores the need for taxpayers’ accountability and transparency and has instructed bureaucrats to ignore the law.”
This year’s budget faces several additional questions. A $56 million miscalculation will need to be plugged. Many agency heads have said their reduced budgets won’t allow them to collect federal matching funds. Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, Gov. Phil Bryant cut the budget twice and pulled more than $108 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to cover revenue shortfalls.
Hood said he does not think his office will pursue any litigation regarding the budget confusion, but he does believe the Department of Finance and Administration, which manages the state budget, will follow Hood opinions.
“We have every indication that they will go to these agencies and tell them to follow our opinions,” Hood said. “All we said is what is said in the law.”