Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, just before announcing the legislative budget committee’s recommendations to cut most state agencies’ budgets next fiscal year, began Monday morning’s meeting with a warning.
“If you define the success of a state by how much money its government spends, then you probably ain’t gonna like this morning’s report,” Reeves said.
“If, however, you believe that government, like everyday Mississippi families, must live within its means, spend only recurring revenue for recurring expenses, choose not to borrow money we cannot afford to pay back, and also choose not to spend money we do not have, then this year’s legislative budget recommendation is a good start to the FY2019 budget process.”
With that, the fiscal year 2019 budgeting process for more than 100 state agencies and departments, which provide public services to Mississippians, continued.
The committee’s recommendation – which is just that, until final appropriations bills are passed by the Legislature in March – is bleak for most state agencies, which are already reeling from several planned and unexpected budget cuts the past three fiscal years.
Agency heads, however, will have ample opportunity to plead their cases before appropriations committee and sub-committee members make final decisions in coming weeks, and high-powered lobbyists and legislative liaisons will certainly have some say in final spending totals.
The Legislature’s recommendation calls for total general fund spending of $5.5 billion – a 1.2 percent reduction in expected spending for the current fiscal year. The proposed budget would set aside 2 percent of revenues.
Just five general fund agencies or departments would receive year-over-year increases in the recommendation, while 68 agencies or departments would receive cuts.
Leaders are proposing the deletion of 2,687 vacant state jobs, which Reeves said makes up the “vast majority” of proposed budget cuts for most state agencies.
Some agencies, including the public school funding formula Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the Department of Revenue and Institutes for Higher Learning’s financial aid division would receive the same funds they received this year.
When asked if agency heads should perceive level funding a win, Reeves replied: “I think they have to do the best they can representing the taxpayers.”
The legislative budget recommendation comes just a week after Gov. Phil Bryant released the Executive Budget Recommendation, which signaled the same bleak outlook for most state agencies.
Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and other state leaders have implemented tax policy since taking over in 2012 that has lowered revenues collected, giving lawmakers less money to budget and spend each of the past two years. Bryant has been forced to make five mid-year budget cuts in two fiscal years to offset lower-than-projected revenue collections.
As revenues have struggled to meet projections the past several months, leaders have maintained that their aim all along has been to reduce government spending.
“I don’t think we should apologize for reducing the size of government,” Gunn said Monday. “We, as conservatives, have said we want to live within our means, and part of that is looking to reduce the size of government. We don’t apologize for reducing the costs.”