'Staff Error' Turns into 1.6-Percent Cut to Most State Agencies | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

'Staff Error' Turns into 1.6-Percent Cut to Most State Agencies

Gov. Phil Bryant announced that he is planning to cut state spending by $56 million to account for the "staff error" lawmakers admitted back in May.

Gov. Phil Bryant announced that he is planning to cut state spending by $56 million to account for the "staff error" lawmakers admitted back in May. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

Mississippi is only two months into the new fiscal year, and Gov. Phil Bryant has announced that he will reduce or "adjust" the state budget by $56.8 million to account for a "staff error" that state lawmakers admitted back in May.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, announced the $56.8-million error in May, but no changes were made at the time. The adjustment affects the current fiscal-year budget.

"Unless revenues outperform expectations during the first six months of the next fiscal year, this anticipated shortfall will be addressed during the 2017 legislative session," Reeves and Gunn said in their May press release.

Bryant decided to act sooner than January and chose to not use rainy-day funds to fill the $56.8-million hole.

"I am hopeful that these adjustments will be sufficient to get state government through this fiscal year, but budget cuts or transfers from the Rainy Day Fund may be required later," Bryant wrote to State Fiscal Officer Laura Jackson in his letter explaining the cuts.

The $56.8 million-cut makes up less than 1 percent of the state's overall budget, but most agencies will absorb a 1.63-percent cut to their agencies. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (the state's education funding formula), Student Financial Aid, and Military and Veterans Affairs are exempt from the cut, Bryant's letter states.

In a joint statement, Reeves and Gunn said slow sales tax and revenue collections were to blame for the adjustment.

"Slower than expected collection of sales taxes and other revenues are providing challenges for Mississippi and other states," they said in a press release. "We will continue monitoring monthly receipts and spending for any additional action as the fiscal year progresses."

Mississippi is not constitutionally required to balance the state budget—something that state Treasurer Lynn Fitch pointed out at the Neshoba County Fair this summer.

"We are one of the few states that does not have a constitutional amendment that says, 'Mississippi, you will balance your budget,' and we have to change that," she told fairgoers in July.

Fitch said on July 28 that she would champion a ballot initiative to require the state to always keep a balanced budget.

That same day, after Gov. Bryant wrapped up his fair speech, reporters asked him about a constitutional amendment that would require the Legislature and the governor to balance the state budget.

"I mean, we've already done that; it is something that we do every year," Bryant told reporters in July. "And I know it's not specifically a constitutional requirement, but I can't imagine any governor or any legislature that would not balance that budget, so I would welcome it (the amendment)."

For more state and budget news visit jfp.ms/state. Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com.

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