Fact check: Democrat Baria’s claim about legislative budget under GOP leadership

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Rep. David Baria speaks about the lottery bill during a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson Friday, August 24, 2018.

In the Democratic Party’s response to Gov. Phil Bryant’s final State of the State address, Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said Republican leaders increased the legislative budget $6 million during their seven-year reign while cutting other state agency budgets.

“The operating budget of the Mississippi Legislature, controlled by Republicans, has grown from $18 million to $24 million — an increase of 30 percent,” Baria said. “We don’t agree that this kind of increase for politicians, at the same time we cut budgets for agencies that help everyday Mississippians, exemplifies the ‘best ever.’”

The figure, first published in the Mississippi Business Journal, came from reports the state auditor’s office compiled based on the Legislature’s budget. In 2011, the Legislature spent $18.5 million, according to the bottom line of the auditor’s report. In 2018, the Legislature spent $24.1 million.

But a closer analysis shows that the 2011 audit excluded two sizable departments within the Legislature’s general fund budget: The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) and the Legislative Budget Office. The 2011 report did include a breakdown of expenses for those departments. 

However, an examination of expenditures for lawmakers’ salary and expenses shows that lawmaker compensation was higher in 2018 than in 2011. Including salary, state benefits and travel expenses, lawmakers in the House and Senate took home a total of $11.4 million in 2011. In 2018, lawmakers in the House and Senate took home $12.5 million in compensation — $1.1 million more than seven years earlier.

The majority of the $1.1 million increase over seven years came from increases in fringe benefits, according to the analysis. Travel expenses also increased over the seven-year period, but mileage and lodging rates increased over that same period. 

In addition to lawmaker compensation, the Legislature’s 2018 budget reflects $1.2 million increase in legislative support staff and benefits compared to 2011.

Lawmaker compensation includes:

• $10,000 base salary for in-session work
• $1,500 per month out-of-session
• $140 “per diem” for each day they spend in Jackson
• 54 cents a mile for mileage reimbursement (Hinds County residents excluded)

Mississippi Today also fact checked Gov. Phil Bryant’s 2019 State of the State address for accuracy and context.