State agencies to Legislature: Send more money

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Larrison Campbell/Mississippi Today

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn (right), Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (center) and Sen. Brice Wiggins listen to representatives from Child Protection Services at a legislative budget hearing last fall.

More money is on the minds of many agency heads this week as lawmakers hear firsthand their budget proposals for next fiscal year.

The 14 lawmakers who sit on the joint legislative budget committee will hear from 11 agency heads Thursday and Friday about how much money they’re requesting for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018.

Leaders from most state agencies and departments have already submitted requests for more or level funding from the current fiscal year.

The Department of Education is asking for a 12 percent increase in general funds for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula which funds K-12 education in the state. MAEP funding for the current year was cut about a 1 percent cut. The agency’s general education programs department is requesting a $23.7 million general fund increase from the current year.

The Department of Public Safety is requesting a $20 million general fund increase for next year. The Department of Mental Health is requesting level funding from last year, and the Department of Health is requesting about $3.5 million more for next year.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation, which has received line-item budget scrutiny from lawmakers the past year, was excluded from the fall budget hearings this week, but the agency submitted a budget request reflecting a decrease of about $100 million for next year’s general operations. MDOT, with help from several interest groups and legislative leaders, has long decried their low funding levels.

MDOT receives no general fund dollars; most of the agency’s funding comes from the state’s 18.4 cents per gallon fuel tax, which moves through a special fund.

Additional funding for roads and bridges has been a focus for several years. The Senate Transportation committee held hearings last month with MDOT leaders about their needs and asked the Department of Revenue to estimate new revenues if the state’s gas tax was raised by 8 cents. Revenue officials said the rate would generate about $164 million per year more.

The short budget meetings for just a handful of agencies on Thursday and Friday is a far cry from what the hearings used to bring. Previously, all agency and department heads got fall budget hearings, detailing what their needs were. The schedule for Thursday and Friday’s meetings give each of the 11 agency heads about 30 minutes each.

Laura Hipp, spokeswoman for budget committee chairman Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, said that the agencies represented at the meetings this week make up 85 percent of the general fund budget.

“All agencies submit a budget to the Legislative Budget Office, and there will be discussions and public hearings during the session to talk about spending in all areas,” Hipp said. “This is a first step in the process.”

The vast majority of agencies received budget cuts for this fiscal year, prompting some layoffs and cancelled services. Additionally, three mid-year budget cuts were necessary after tax revenues fell below projections.

Last year, the fall budget hearings were followed by about several rounds of special budget hearings in which legislators sifted through basic and uncommon expenses, travel records and vehicle fleet information of 13 state agencies in efforts to find inefficient spending. Similar hearings were not conducted this year.

Both the legislative budget committee and the governor release separate budget recommendations in November or December, sketching a rough draft of the coming appropriations.

Agency heads then go before legislative appropriations committees in the early weeks of the legislative session to make their final budget requests. From there, the Legislature will work through the funding bills and determine how much money to appropriate to each agency.

Below are general fund budget requests for key agencies. Click here for all state agency budget requests.

• Department of Health

2017 actual: $32.9M

2018 appropriated: $27.8M

2019 requested: $31.2M

• Secretary of State

2017 actual: $14.0M

2018 appropriated: $13.9M

2019 requested: $13.9M

• Mississippi Development Authority

2017 actual: $19.1M

2018 appropriated: $19.7M

2019 requested: $19.7M

• Department of Education — MAEP

2017 actual: $2.0B

2018 appropriated: $1.9B

2019 requested: $2.2B

• Department of Education — General Education Programs

2017 actual: $106.9M

2018 appropriated: $119.1M

2019 requested: $142.8M

• Department of Public Safety

2017 actual: $84.6M

2018 appropriated: $84.5M

2019 requested: $104.9M

• Department of Mental Health

2017 actual: $218.1M

2018 appropriated: $207.8M

2019 requested: $207.8M

• Department of Human Services

2017 actual: $57.3M

2018 appropriated: $51.5M

2019 requested: $58.0M

• Department of Finance and Administration

2017 actual: $38.4M

2018 appropriated: $42.9M

2019 requested: $42.9M

• Department of Corrections

2017 actual: $315.0M

2018 appropriated: $309.9M

2019 requested: $329.5M

• Child Protection Services

2017 actual: $98.3M

2018 appropriated: $97.9M

2018 requested: $113.2M

• Department of Audit

2017 actual: $8.9M

2018 appropriated: $8.6M

2019 requested: $8.6M

• Attorney General’s Office

2017 actual: $26.7M

2018 appropriated: $22.9M

2019 requested: $27.8M

• Mississippi Department of Transportation (no general funds)

2017 actual: $1.2B

2018 appropriated: $1.2B

2019 requested: $1.1B