House and Senate leaders late Monday said they were close to deals on budget, federal stimulus spending and other measures, but said they would have to extend deadlines for final negotiations as the 2022 Mississippi legislative session draws toward a close.
Lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday to extend the session “on paper” because they couldn’t meet Monday’s midnight deadline to pass budget bills. Still, they hope to finish work and end this year’s session by Friday.
Still being finalized is a nearly $7 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, and a plan to spend most of $1.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act pandemic stimulus money from Congress.
“Chairman Hopson and Chairman Read are busy right now working on (appropriations bills) but obviously they will not finish” tonight, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said referring to House Appropriations Chair John Read and his Senate counterpart, Briggs Hopson.
Legislative leaders do not believe they will have any trouble garnering the two-thirds vote of both chambers needed to push back the Monday night deadline.
“I do believe we will reach a budget (agreement) tonight or sometime tomorrow,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday. “… But the physical process of printing the bills — having analysts read them, proof them, then the actual printing, can take 48 hours. Friday — that’s my guess (on ending the session).”
The budget agreement is expected to include about $40 million for a state employee pay raise under the state Personnel Board’s “SEC Squared” program to bring state government salaries closer to the regional averages. Lawmakers already have passed on to the governor the largest teacher pay raise in state history.
Over the weekend, lawmakers also sent to the governor the largest tax cut in state history, one that will eliminate more than $500 million in personal income taxes for Mississippians by 2026.
Legislative leaders said they’ve also agreed on most details of spending $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion of the state’s ARPA money and holding back $300 million to $400 million.
The bulk of the state’s ARPA money — about $750 million — would go to local governments and rural water associations for infrastructure projects, House Speaker Pro Tem Jason White said. Millions would also go to health, mental health and children’s services to help the state meet long-running federal court mandates to remedy substandard services and conditions. Other spending will likely include a new nursing center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and about $50 million for workforce development.
White said lawmakers are currently considering a $25 million match for $25 million the city of Jackson has earmarked for work on its troubled water and sewer system. City leaders have said fixes to the system will cost much more, and White said this would be a first step in addressing the problems.
Numerous general law bills are still being debated in the final days of the session, Gunn said, including an equal pay bill — with Mississippi the last state in the nation not to provide recourse for employees paid less based on sex — and reinstating the voter ballot initiative process shot down by the courts.