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Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch announced a ballot initiative Thursday to amend the Mississippi Constitution to include a requirement to balance the state budget.
Fitch, speaking at the Neshoba County Fair, cited concerns over the current fiscal year’s budget, which numerous state officials – both Republican and Democrat – have publicly criticized.
Fitch, who has served as Treasurer since 2012, said she will spearhead the ballot initiative.
“We are one of few states that don’t have Constitutional requirement to have a balanced budget,” Fitch said. “We need to change that. It’s important to say that we want, we deserve and we need a Constitutional requirement to balance our budget.”
“We need to urge the Legislature to pass strong laws to balance our budget,” she continued. “It’s so important for the long haul for our state.”
There are several laws on the books in the Mississippi Code that require a balanced budget, though the phrasing of those laws is ambiguous. No one section of the Mississippi Code explicitly mandates that the budget be balanced.
One of the governor’s duties is to ensure that expenditures do not exceed revenues throughout the course of a fiscal year. The Legislature is tasked with passing a balanced budget.
But Fitch’s proposal would add a Constitutional amendment, which is generally regarded as more concrete than state law.
State politicians on both sides of the aisle have had to grapple with the state budget in recent weeks.
Gov. Phil Bryant called a special session in June to ask the Legislature to allow him to pull additional reserve funds to balance the budget.
In the past fiscal year, Bryant cut state budgets across the board two different times and pulled more than $105 million from reserve funds to help offset lower-than-expected revenues.
For the current fiscal year, which began July 1, lawmakers announced an erroneous overestimation of $56 million.
In recent weeks, Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, has said that at least $79 million in special funds, which Republican lawmakers included in the 2017 general fund estimation, cannot legally be pulled into that fund.
“We are $130 million in debt,” Fitch said Thursday. “Right now, because we don’t have a specific Constitutional requirement or specific laws on our books, we’re not sure what we’re balancing it to. What’s the number?”
Mississippi’s Constitution can be amended one of two ways. In one route, two-thirds of both the House and Senate must approve an amendment.
The second allows a ballot initiative, which is difficult in Mississippi. Ballot initiative organizers must obtain 21,443 certified signatures from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the year 2000. A total of 107,216 signatures, evenly distributed among those congressional districts, must be obtained.
Fitch said she does not have a date in mind to get the vote on a ballot, but she said she has begun researching the proper channels through the Secretary of State’s office.
After the political speeches concluded at the fair on Thursday, Bryant, who has defended the legislative leadership and the state budget, was not surprised to hear about Fitch’s initiative.
“What I’d like to do is let people vote on it,” Bryant said. “I’ve heard from some who don’t think it’s necessary, but I don’t see any problem letting the people of Mississippi decide.”