Mississippi government will spend slightly more in 2016, pushing total to about $6.3 billion



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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's budget writers said Saturday the state's overall budget will go up by more than 2 percent, for a total budget of about $6.3 billion.

Precise figures remained unavailable Saturday, even as a deadline passed for agreement between House and Senate negotiators.

Including fees, gas taxes and federal aid, Mississippi spends more than $20 billion a year.

Figures also remained unavailable for how much Mississippi would borrow for construction, with negotiators saying they would release that figure Sunday.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the state had agreed, using a dedicated $36-million-a-year stream of casino taxes, to borrow $200 million for bridges. For two years, some money from that stream would go to build an aquarium in Gulfport, plus facilities in Warren and Washington counties. After that, all the money not needed for the bonds, likely $20 million a year, would stay in the state Transportation Department budget.

Lawmakers have until Monday's end to approve budgets and borrowing.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said their ability to plug holes in last-minute negotiations Saturday was limited because revenue estimates for the 2016 budget didn't rise much.

On Wednesday, lawmakers added nearly $102 million to the revenue estimate for the current budget year, which ends June 30. But they only added $30 million to the 2016 budget projection.

"There ain't no plug money in the chairman's back pocket," Frierson said.

Some placeholder bills with zeroes for spending amounts were filed Saturday to buy more time for bills to be drafted.

Lawmakers said they plan to add $81 million to the state-federal Medicaid program to try to cover its growth. The program has run a large deficit this year, as in many previous years.

Universities had asked for $36 million more to fund teacher pay raises. Frierson said that of a roughly $25 million increase in operating funds, $17 million would go to money that could be used to fund faculty and operations. More money was added to pay for building repairs

Incoming Higher Education Commissioner Jim Borsig said it would be the first time since 2008 that lawmakers appropriated money for faculty salary increases. Mississippi's eight public universities have given increases since then, but have used money they've raised mainly from tuition increases.

"I am encouraged and I believe that addressing issues like this takes more than one year," Borsig said of falling short of the $36 million.

The state's 15 community colleges had sought a $79 million increase, but are in line to get only $9 million for operations, plus $3 million for repairs. The colleges are far short of the funding level called for in state law.

Gov. Phil Bryant already signed a $2.5 billion K-12 education budget that lawmakers sent to him early without going to conference, an unusual move.

The K-12 budget increased funding to schools by $110 million, including $40 million for the second year of a teacher pay raise. It still leaves the state funding formula $211 million short of the amount it calls for to provide an adequate education.


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