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Legislature, flush with cash, passes budget, completing work for 2024 session

The Mississippi Legislature completed its work for the 2024 session on Friday with the passage of a $7 billion state budget – 5.8% larger than the budget it passed last year.

The $7 billion reflects the amount spent on recurring expenses. The budget last year, including one-time funds, COVID-19 federal relief funds and other one-time money for specific projects, actually was more than the budget passed this year.

The completion of the budget late Friday ended the bulk of lawmakers’ work for the 2024 session, but legislators will return briefly Saturday to take care of procedural issues. Plus, the Legislature might reconvene on May 14 to deal with any veto from Gov. Tate Reeves.

One of the final actions on Friday was approving a massive bill that provides state money for projects throughout the state. The legislation funds tourism projects, work on local governmental office buildings and other projects for individual legislators.

Th total amount of the projects was $227.4 million.

In the past, projects were often funded by borrowing. But in recent years, thanks in large part to an infusion of federal COVID-19 funds and other federal funds, Mississippi, like most other states, has been flush with cash, allowing those projects to be funded with cash instead of long-term debt.

Senate Finance Chair Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, told senators paying for the projects with cash will not continue in future years. State revenue has begun to slow.

Harkins told senators there were more than $1 billion in requests on the local level for projects.

Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point, asked Harkins how it was decided which projects to fund.

Harkins said the focus was on infrastructure projects and other projects where it was viewed the greatest need was.

 In addition to the pet projects for lawmakers, other capital spending included:

  • $110 million for university projects.
  • $45 million for community college projects.
  • $160 million for work on improving state Highway 7 in Lafayette County.
  • $90 million for work on U.S. I-55 in DeSoto County.
  • $50 million for work on state office buildings throughout the state.

In total, $820 million was committed in surplus funds for building projects throughout the state. Plus, $110 million in surplus funds was pumped into the Public Employees Retirement System to help shore up the government pension plan.

In terms of the budget to operate agencies, House Appropriations Chair John Read, R-Gautier, said state agencies are receiving an average 5% year-over-year increase in funding.

That increase includes money to pay for increases in the premiums for the state employee health plan and to pay for a .5% increase for each state agency in the contribution to the state retirement plan.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said before the session began that dealing with financial issues facing PERS was one of the top priorities.

“We tackled the PERS issue,” Hosemann said, though, some argued that the legislative solution did not resolve all the financial issues facing the system.

Senate Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said the state budget provides funds to allow state agencies to deal with inflation.

“The budget is reflective of the times,” Hopson said. “State agencies are not immune to inflation. In order to provide services at the same level, we have to spend additional funds.”

The budget includes an additional $240 million in funding for K-12 schools.

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