New cars, old commissions on the budget chopping block

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Legislation intended to further tighten the state budget, including a halt on purchasing vehicles for one year and the elimination of 16 state boards or commissions, passed House and Senate committees Thursday.

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. John Read, R-Gautier

Appropriations Committee chairmen Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, and Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, introduced bills that would implement a moratorium on vehicle purchases and leases.

Emergency services and law enforcement vehicles, those funded with grants and those used by the Child Protective Services, a new agency, would be exempt.

A separate bill from Clarke would abolish 16 boards and commissions. A list of these boards and commissions is published at the end of this article.

The car purchase freeze — which would be in effect for one fiscal year and is the second in five years — passed unanimously in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. The bill abolishing the boards and commissions was unanimously passed in the Senate committee.

“These 16 boards and commissions have not met in over two years,” Clarke said. “There’s no employees and no effect on PERS (state retirement system). These boards don’t even have a (state) Treasury Department account.”

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale

Clarke said he worked with Gov. Phil Bryant on the boards and commissions bill. In his State of the State address earlier this month, Bryant mentioned 16 boards and commissions he would ask lawmakers this session to abolish the commissions.

The governor’s office did not return a request for comment.

The vehicle purchasing moratorium includes exemptions, Read said. Also exempt are agencies with fewer than 50 fleet vehicles. Those agencies may replace a damaged or totaled vehicle if approved by the Department of Finance and Administration.

And if state employees have to use their own vehicles for state business because agency vehicles are not available, the employee would receive gas and mileage reimbursements, the bill says. If the trip is longer than 100 miles, the finance and administration department would determine whether it’s most cost effectiveness to reimburse the employee or rent a car.

“It’s one of those things you do in tight budget times,” Clarke said when asked about the vehicle purchase moratorium. “We just don’t want to spend money on this in tight times.”

List of proposed abolished boards and commissions:

• Task force to study voting systems that comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002

• Commission on Public Procurement Codes

• Institute for Technology Development Oversight Committee

• Advisory Committee on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the Advisory Council on Comprehensive Health Planning of the Office of the Governor

• Wastewater Advisory Council

• Mississippi Health Finance Authority

• Mississippi Health Finance Board

• Healthcare Coordinating Council

• Housing Task Force

• Task force on recycling

• Advisory Council to the Department of Economic Development

• Food Technology Advisory Board

• Mississippi Wayport Authority and Mississippi Wayport Authority Advisory Council

• Council of State Agencies on Agriculture

• Agricultural Marketing Advisory Task Force

Contributing: R.L. Nave