The Mississippi Legislature will begin the 2023 session on Jan. 3 with a mind-boggling $3.9-billion surplus, according to information compiled by the staff of the Legislative Budget Committee.
To put the surplus in perspective, it is little more than half as large as the overall state-support budget of $7.9 billion for the current fiscal year. State support refers to the funds derived primarily from general taxation, such as the sales tax on retail items and the income tax. The state also has other special fund agencies, which receive taxes or fees designated solely to run their agency, such as the fee barbers pay for their regulatory board or the motor fuel tax to operate the Transportation Department.
The state has an overall budget, including all state and federal funds appropriated by the Legislature, of $26 billion for the current fiscal year with 45% of the total funds being provided by the federal government.
By any metric, the surplus the state has is unprecedented.
These funds fall into different categories with different guidelines of how they can be appropriated by the 2023 Legislature. But it should be stressed that in most cases the Legislature can vote to change those guidelines and it is almost a certainty the Legislature will not appropriate all the surplus funds this session.
Here are the categories of the surplus and, in general, how they can be spent:
Capital expense fund: $1.6 billion. This is the accumulation of unspent revenue from past sessions. These funds are not considered recurring, meaning the Legislature will strive to spend them on non-recurring expenses, such as construction projects or major purchases, such as computer systems. Providing rebates to taxpayers as some have proposed also would be a one-time expense.
General fund: $1 billion. These are tax collections and other revenues collected above the amount projected at this time to be appropriated by the Legislature for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. These funds are considered recurring and can be used for any purpose.
Working Cash Stabilization Fund or rainy day funds: $579.4 million. These are funds that have been placed in reserves for emergencies, such as a downturn in state revenue collections. The rainy day fund currently is at its legal cap of 10% of the total general fund budget.
Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund: $298.1 million. These are federal funds provided to deal with COVID-19 related issues. The federal government places guidelines on how the funds can be appropriated. A portion can be used for recurring expenses, but for the most part must be spent on one-time items, such as water and sewer repair and construction, broadband and for pandemic relief.
The 2% set aside: $150.4 million. By law, the Legislature is only supposed to appropriate 98% of the projected state tax collections. The 2% rule is in place because projecting tax collections is an inexact science. In recent years revenue has significantly exceeded projections, resulting in the large reserves in the capital expense fund. In bad economic times, legislators have changed the law to spend the 2% set aside, but that will not be necessary this session.
Gulf Coast Restoration Fund: $124.2 million. Money from the settlement of lawsuits related to the 2010 BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. These funds are earmarked for Gulf Coast projects.
Education Enhancement Fund: $78.9 million. The state collects a 1% sales tax on retail items designated solely for education projections. Like with the overall tax collections, revenue, from the 1-cent sale tax has exceeded expectations resulting in the surplus in the Education Enhancement Fund
Health Care Expendable Fund: $43.1 million. The state receives a payment annually from the tobacco companies as a result of the 1990s-era lawsuit filed by former Attorney General Mike Moore against the cigarette-manufacturers. Money in the fund is normally designated for health-related issues.
BP Settlement Fund: $12.3 million. Money from the BP oil spill settlements reserved for one-time projects in areas outside the Gulf Coast counties.