$1,000 for teachers, pay raises for many state employees included in tentative budget agreement

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Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, in December 2014. Reeves says the House and Senate negotiators are hammering out the details of a spending plan.

Mississippi’s public school teachers are expected to receive a $1,000 pay raise starting with the new fiscal year on July 1 under the budget agreement being hammered out between House and Senate negotiators, House Speaker Philip Gunn said late Monday.

Under the still developing plan, many state employees and community college and university staff also would receive raises, though not as much as school teachers, Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, said.

Both Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, spoke confidently late Monday that legislators could begin voting on a final budget proposal later this week. Reeves, though, provided far fewer details of what the budget agreement would look like than did the House speaker.

The lieutenant governor did not cite a specific figure for pay raises, although earlier this session the Senate voted to give teachers a $1,000 pay raise disbursed over two years and the House amended that figure to $4,000 paid out over two years.

“I believe that we will give a significant increase in pay for our teachers to reward their fantastic work over the last many years and I’m hopeful that it can be as large a number as we can possibly afford,” Reeves said.

As the budget agreement stood late Monday, according to Gunn, there would be a one-year raise of $1,000 instead of a multiyear proposal.

Earlier in the session, many expressed disappointment with the original Senate proposal of $1,000 over two years.

When the bill was originally being worked out in the Senate, Democrats asked if the amount was a joke. In a statement, the Mississippi Association of Educators called the figure insulting.

“Our teachers deserve a pay raise that is reflective of their value to this state, and instead legislators have handed them yet another symbolic gesture,” the statement said.

Today the base salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $34,390. In the 2017-18 school year, the average salary for a public school teacher was $44,926.

Revenue estimates increase

Late Monday, Gunn and Reeves, along with other members of the Legislative Budget Committee, met to raise the revenue estimate for the current fiscal year, which started July 1, by $125.3 million. They raised the estimate by $56.2 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The revision of the revenue estimates, based on recommendations from the state’s financial experts, is important because it provides legislators additional funds for pay raises and for other state governmental services.

“Obviously our economy is doing very well in Mississippi, just like our economy nationally is doing very well today,” Reeves said of increasing the revenue estimate.

He stuck to familiar talking points, stressing “we’re not going to spend money that we don’t have.”

The overall state general fund budget is expected to be more than $6 billion.

“This is a good budget,” Gunn said. He said in recent years legislators have had to make some tough choices in terms of cutting agencies because of sluggish revenue collections, but those “decisions are paying off this year.”

In this year, an election year, most agencies will be level-funded, Gunn said. He predicted that the final agreement would provide additional funds for Child Protection Services, to deal with the perennially problematic foster care system, and additional money for the Department of Public Services to enhance the bureau that grants commercial drivers’ licenses.

He said there will be “a three year look back” to ensure that state employees had received a 3 percent raise during the past three years. If a state employee had received a 1 percent raise during the past two years, for instance, the employee would receive a 2 percent raise for the upcoming fiscal year if the budget agreement holds.

Normally, the Legislature would be in session during the upcoming weekend to hammer out a budget proposal and to begin passing it. But legislative leaders hope to finish that process this week and avoid the weekend work and possibly end the 2019 legislative session before the weekend.