Expert: Mississippi economy is growing but still lags behind regional and national recovery



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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's economy is growing but still lags behind regional and national recovery from the Great Recession, an expert said Thursday.

"Everything's not just perfect. But it is, I would say, better than it has been in a long time," state economist Darrin Webb told legislators during a briefing at the Capitol.

Lawmakers are considering the state's economic outlook as they work on a roughly $6.2 billion state budget for fiscal 2016, which begins July 1. The budget-writing deadline is in late March.

There are reasons for optimism, Webb said. Plummeting gasoline prices, for example, are especially helpful to consumers in low-income states like Mississippi.

The number of unemployment claims in the state decreased during 2014, and people with manufacturing jobs in Mississippi were working more hours per week.

The state's gross domestic product is expected to increase 2.4 percent this year, up from 1.3 percent in 2014.

However, Mississippi had the fifth-worst salary growth nationally during the first nine months of 2013 and 2014, and it ranked ninth-worst nationally for growth in nonfarm employment for the first 11 months of those two years.

"We're still a long way from recovering all the jobs that were lost in the Great Recession," Webb said.

State tax collections exceeded expectations for the first half of the current budget year, which ends June 30. Webb said there's reason to believe that will continue.

"We've got some very large collection months ahead of us," he said.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said Webb's presentation showed there's reason for optimism.

"But there's also reason to remain cautious in expenditures and in budgeting," Gunn said.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee held public hearings in September and October to start considering agencies' spending requests for the coming year.

"It was obvious that they felt like, or thought, that we had a heck of a lot more money than we do, and there were a lot of requests," Gunn said Thursday. "They come with an idealistic, pie-in-the-sky request knowing they're not going to get that, and we do the best we can, based on what the revenues are going to be."

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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