Rep. John Read is the new House Appropriations Committee chair, filling one of the most powerful positions in state government.
Read, R-Gautier, takes over for previous Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, who left the Legislature July 1 when Gov. Phil Bryant appointed him to lead the Department of Revenue.
“I’m not Herb Frierson, and he’s not John Read,” Read told Mississippi Today shortly after the announcement Monday. “But I can tell you that some of the things he’s implemented over the past few years, I absolutely plan to continue … I’m very humbled by it, really, because it’s an important role, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone on both sides of the building.”
The appropriations committee chairmanship is a key position in state government. Read will work closely with Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Florence, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, all of whom craft the state budget for each fiscal year.
The group, working with the Legislative Budget Office, assesses appropriation requests from agency heads, determines how much money to dole out to individual agencies, and ultimately, decides which agencies will receive year-over-year increases or cuts.
Those officials will perhaps be under more pressure than in past years.
The current year’s budget faces a hole of at least $135 million, according to Treasurer Lynn Fitch: $56 million was an erroneous overestimation. Plus, and at least $79 million of anticipated special-fund transfers into the general fund will not be transferred, according to Laura Jackson, executive director of the Department of Finance and Administration.
In the past year, Bryant has cut agency budgets mid-year two separate times, and pulled around $110 million from the rainy-day fund to help offset lower-than-expected revenues.
“In the coming months, we will have to try to make the best of what we have,” Read said. “The big thing right now is that our revenue has not hit estimations, and we don’t really know what we’re going to have. We’ll sort all that out in the fall Legislative Budget Office meetings, and by January, we’ll have a much clearer picture.”
The appropriations chairmanship had been left vacant since Frierson left the dome July 1. Read said he was one of a handful of representatives who submitted their names to the Speaker for consideration. Each candidate made a presentation to Gunn, Read said.
“John has more experience and knowledge of the appropriations process than anyone in the House of Representatives,” Gunn said in a release. “His resume and his record of service make it clear that he is very qualified to be the chairman, and I believe he will do an excellent job.”
Read’s appropriations experience is extensive. He has served on the House Appropriations Committee for 20 years, serving as vice-chairman for eight of those years. In addition to his that experience, Read has served as chairman of the Fees and Salaries Committee and the Conservation and Water Resources Committee; he also served as vice chairman of the Rules Committee.
This summer, Reeves and Gunn commissioned legislative working groups to assess the budgets, line-by-line, of 13 state agencies. The goal of the groups, the legislative leadership said, is to identify unnecessary spending, freeing some moneys to be moved elsewhere in the budget.
Read is currently serving on the House Education Committee.
“No one’s on a witch hunt,” Read said of the working groups. “We’re just trying to get some information from these agencies so we can better make decisions next session. I think there will be a very productive group of hearings between now and November.”