State budget not complete despite deadline passing

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The waiting game continues at the Capitol as lawmakers did not finish specifics on next fiscal year’s $6 billion budget before Saturday night’s deadline to pass committee reports.

The deadline to pass conference committee reports for state agency budgets was Saturday at 8 p.m., but lawmakers passed placeholder bills for several appropriations bills.

Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves 

“Generally speaking, most state agencies will see year-over-year numbers that are flat,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said.

“Don’t be surprised that tomorrow, some of the bills will be recommitted,” Reeves continued. “That is a normal process we go through as there are still conversations about specific language and making sure we get everything done correctly.”

Conference committees are groups of three lawmakers from each chamber who meet, often behind closed doors, to negotiate differences and create a final bill.

Several agencies do not yet know how much money they’ll receive next year, but Reeves did answer questions about specific agencies:

• K-12 education will see a total increase of $9 million, including about $3 million for early childhood education. The public school funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, will not receive an increase.

• Institutions of Higher Learning will see an increase of about $9 million.

• Child Protection Services will see an increase of about $12 million.

• Department of Human Services will see an increase of about $18 million.

• Department of Health will receive an increase of about $1.9 million.

• Division of Medicaid will be level funded, meaning the same appropriation amount as the current fiscal year.

• Department of Mental Health will be level funded.

Reeves also said that current fiscal year deficit appropriations are still being worked out amongst lawmakers. These are appropriations to provide additional funds to agencies which have told the Legislature that they can not make ends meet this fiscal year, which ends June 30, on the current appropriation.

In addition to the appropriations for individual state agencies, lawmakers agreed on a $280 million bond bill, which includes: $82 million for Institutions of Higher Learning, $50 million for the Local System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program, $45 million for several state agencies, $45 million for Huntington Ingalls shipbuilders, and $25 million for community and junior colleges.

The passage of the bond bill will be welcome news for many as the Legislature did not pass a bond bill last year, after it was held up in negotiations between House and Senate leaders.

Medicaid

Although lawmakers finalized Medicaid’s budget, Senate leaders said they’re no closer to resolving a major sticking point with the Medicaid technical bill—which means the bill itself is in jeopardy of dying.

If the two houses can’t agree by Monday, the bill will die — giving Gov. Phil Bryant the option to run the agency by executive order.

On Saturday, Senate leaders were clear about who they felt was responsible for the stalemate: their colleagues in the House, who they said were trying too hard to please a powerful interest group.

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula

“The House wants to put the tech bill at risk because of Mississippi True,” said Senate Medicaid Committee Chairman Brice Wiggins. “There’s a lot of issues in the tech bill and the Mississippi True amendment is just one of those, but the Hospital Association has made it all about that.”

The technical bill, which lays out how the agency will spend its $6 billion annual budget, is currently at the center of a battle between two powerful interest groups in the state — the Hospital Association and the insurance companies responsible for paying them.

Last summer Mississippi True, a provider-run insurance plan that has the Hospital Association’s backing, lost out on a bid to become one of Medicaid’s three managed care contracts, each of which is worth approximately $1 billion. Since then it has lobbied relentlessly to get a piece of the lucrative managed care pie, an argument that has strong support in the House.

The Senate, however, has drawn a hard line, arguing that the Legislature shouldn’t change internal agency decisions just because they’re unhappy with the results. The three insurers Medicaid picked for contracts, UnitedHealth Care, Magnolia Health and Molina Healthcare, strongly support this opinion.

On Saturday, Mississippi Today asked Wiggins if the tech bill dies, is the Hospital Association responsible? His answer was short and to the point.

“Yes,” Wiggins said.

The state Hospital Association declined to comment.