Wicker: Congress can slash spending and save state programs

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Sen. Roger Wicker speaks at a lunch sponsored by the Stennis Institute-Capitol Press Corps, Tuesday in Jackson.

After lawmakers cut next year’s state budget by about 5 percent, Mississippians in need of support for government services could eye Congress as it finalizes the federal budget for next fiscal year.

But with several Mississippi programs potentially on President Donald Trump’s chopping block, Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker said Congress has to rein in spending first.

Wicker told an audience at a Stennis Press Club luncheon in Jackson that “if we can get to our overall spending goal,” Congress might be able to save the Appalachian Regional Commission and Delta Regional Authority as well as “small airport funds that keep us flying, I want to do it, and I think the Appropriation Committee has shown that they can.”

Mississippi relies more on federal funding than any state in the country, according to Pew Research Institute and the Tax Foundation. Federal spending finds its way to Mississippi in dozens of ways, including Medicare benefits and Medicaid payments, food or housing assistance programs, regional authorities, defense spending and education grants.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which is a recommendation and is unlikely to be accepted in full by Congress, would reduce funding for several federal programs benefiting Mississippi.

The Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission, together serving 62 of the state’s 82 counties, invests tens of millions per year in Mississippi through a number of programs designed to help Mississippians. Several regional airports would lose at least some funding under Trump’s proposal, and Ingalls Shipbuilding in Gulfport would lose a $600 million Coast Guard cutter contract.

As Congress mulls a budget plan in the new presidential term, Wicker said on Tuesday that spending bills will “reflect Republican priorities.”

These include, Wicker said, President Trump’s statements about lowering the nation’s debt intake, as well as speculation about scaling back programs like social security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“It is a matter of slowing the growth of these government programs, not cutting any of the benefits,” Wicker said.

In Mississippi, the budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is tight. The final budget adopted by lawmakers in March slashed $329 million from last year’s appropriated total, and nearly every state agency and department will see a cut.

Tax revenues, which feed the state’s general fund budget, have not consistently met benchmarks. In the past 20 months, Mississippi met its revenue projections just three times, including March of this year, which was the first month in the black since May 2016.

“It’s going to be a very challenging budget this year for virtually every state agency,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said late in the legislative session. “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.”

  • Charles Pearce

    It has always been amusing to watch Mississippi’s congressional delegation dancing to the tune of “Bring Home the Bacon” while singing “Let’s Reduce Spending.”