Legislative leaders on Sunday released a first and likely final draft of next year’s general fund budget — a $6 billion budget plan that is $329 million less than the current fiscal year budget.
Cuts for the next fiscal year affect a vast majority of state agencies and departments.
“I’m proud of the work our committee does,” Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, said Sunday night. “The discussion for why we have this revenue amount is a discussion for another day. We basically said, ‘This is how much we have, so let’s discuss how much we have to appropriate.’ That’s what we did.”
A small group of lawmakers, behind closed doors, worked on the budget well into Saturday night. They sent state agencies’ appropriations bills to the floor Sunday, where 78 were approved by the House and Senate.
However, 26 bills were recommitted to conference committee Sunday, meaning the final appropriations amounts for those agencies could change between now and Monday night’s deadline. But two budget officers said on Sunday it is very unlikely the numbers will change.
Many of those recommitted bills were dummy, or placeholder, bills with agencies’ appropriations for the next year at 0.
“People were working feverishly last night, and when that 8 p.m. deadline approached, we decided to pass dummy versions just to keep them alive,” Clarke said. “We’ll work through those tomorrow.”
In the Senate, several Democrats voiced concerns about the widespread cuts.
“The tension I sense this week as we look at this budget trainwreck is this: Do we want to shrink the size of government? If so, then be proud of it,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. “But what I see, at UMMC and universities and community colleges, we’ll go to them and say, ‘We love you, we’ll do all we can for you.’ But then we continue to give away the store.”
The budget is being finalized this weekend after state economists on Friday lowered revenue estimates for next fiscal year. Lawmakers were told only then that they had to cut $174.6 million more overall than initially planned.
That news complicated the rushed appropriations process over the weekend.
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 – provided lawmakers a starting point to begin the budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins July 1.
That projection showed that lawmakers would have $5.7 billion to use for next year’s budget, which begins July 1. It reflected 1.8 percent revenue growth for next year.
But on Friday, the bottom line number was revised down to $5.6 billion. The new projection reflected no revenue growth for next fiscal year.
In setting the $6 billion FY 2018 budget, the Legislature used some special funds outside of general fund revenue.
Additionally, Gov. Phil Bryant on Friday ordered the fourth mid-year budget cut this fiscal year, which ends June 30, to offset lagging revenue collections.
“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.”
Legislative leaders will work Monday in conference committee meetings to finalize the details of the 26 recommitted appropriations bills, and the votes will be held on chamber floors on all of those, as well as revenue bills and local and private bills.