Just 30 hours before the details of next year’s budget must be finalized, the Legislative Budget Committee announced lawmakers should brace for $174.6 million more in cuts than initially planned.
Lawmakers craft a budget based on tax revenue projections that a team of state economists compile. Before Friday, the last revenue projection – given in November 2016 – provided lawmakers a starting point to begin the budgeting process for next year.
In what was already to be a very tight budget year, Friday’s updated estimate was bleak by all accounts: An additional $175.6 million need to be trimmed from the general fund budget.
“It’s going to be a very challenging budget this year for virtually every state agency,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said on Friday. “I don’t think that should come as any surprise to anyone. That’s been certainly conveyed to many folks the past three or four months. But it’s going to be even more challenging.”
The revenue projection in November 2016 showed that lawmakers would have $5.7 billion to use for next year’s budget, which begins July 1. That projection reflected 1.8 percent revenue growth for next year.
But on Friday, the bottom line number was revised down to $5.6 billion. This new projection reflects no revenue growth for next fiscal year.
The news will come as a shock to state agencies, most of which already have been anticipating cuts. It is unclear which agencies lawmakers will cut further within the next few days before they adjourn for the year, but Reeves’ revelation shows that few, if any, agencies will be spared.
It is also unclear whether the anticipated cuts will affect public services of some state agencies.
In the same short meeting on Friday, officials also revealed that the current fiscal year’s revenue projection also will be less than previously expected, which could prompt another round of budget cuts.
Gov. Phil Bryant has already made two mid-year cuts to offset lower-than-expected revenue collections. Two Senate leaders and a ranking House member on Thursday and Friday said another mid-year cut regarding lagging revenues could occur before lawmakers adjourn for the session next week.
“There was lots of optimism at the time (in November),” Reeves said Friday. “One of the things we’ve seen the last two years was the revenue estimate was overly optimistic. It’s no one’s fault – revenue estimates are always going to be wrong. But we have not met those expectations.”
Lawmakers face tight deadlines to balance these numbers and develop a budget for next year. Committee reports for appropriations bills are due at 8 p.m. Saturday. Those reports, and the appropriations totals for all state agencies, will be completed behind closed doors by a small group of legislative leaders and budget officers.
Lawmakers in both houses will work through the weekend to craft and approve next year’s budget before Monday’s deadline to pass the appropriations bills on the floor.
Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said budget writers will ensure that the state will live within its means.
“We are going to budget the state taxpayers’ money based on the dollars we have, and this is the conservative way of doing that,” Gunn said.