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Lawmakers end 2022 session with historic spending spree

Mississippi legislators ended the 2022 session on a two-day spending spree where they spent funds at a pace never before seen in the state.

During a two-day period ending late Tuesday evening, legislators appropriated $7.32 billion on a state-support budget – 9.2% or $617 million more than was spent for the current year budget that ends on June 30.

In addition, the Legislature spent:

  • $1.51 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds on a litany of items ranging from helping to repair or improve local water and sewer systems to tourism enhancement to propping up state agencies facing lawsuits because of substandard conditions.
  • More than $900 million in surplus funds on hundreds of projects, including small projects such as courthouse repairs across the state, construction (on public buildings, including schools, state office buildings and community college and universities and more) and road and bridge repairs.

At the end of the 48-hour spending spree, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, congratulated members, saying it was “a hard session, but one that has been very rewarding, one that has done amazing things for the people of the state and transformed our state.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, began talking about the need to make transformative change with the funds from the American Rescue Plan soon after the U.S. Congress passed it in 2021.

During the 2022 session, the Legislature appropriated all but about $300 million of the $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan funds it received. The Legislature can spend the remaining amount in the 2023 session.

“We are not likely to see this magnitude of additional federal dollars come to our state again in our lifetime,” Hosemann said. “This is why it was critical for the Legislature to create a plan which would result in the money going in the ground for generational change. So many of our communities across Mississippi have multi-million dollar water and sewer challenges which have health, safety, economic and other consequences.

“These funds will help these communities begin the process of addressing these concerns resulting in a better quality of life for our citizens,” Hosemann continued.

The Legislature enjoyed almost the perfect storm in terms of available money. Because of an estimated $35 billion in federal funds being funneled into Mississippi to deal with the pandemic, state revenue collections have soared to unprecedented heights, resulting in a surplus of about $1.1 billion in addition to the ARPA funds.

The Legislature spent about $900 million of those surplus funds on building projects and eschewed the traditional bond bill that is passed most sessions to incur long-term debt in addressing the state’s building needs. Legislators said they should be able to do the same next year as state revenue collections remain high. The end result should be a reduction in what the state spends on debt service. The debt service payment was $439 million for the current year.

One of the last of the scores of appropriations bills passed was to spend $222.3 million of the surplus funds on hundreds of projects in communities throughout the state. A summary of the projects was passed out to the members by the leadership, but not to members of the media.

After the summary in the House was passed out, the spending bill was passed in less than two minutes.

At times, the number of appropriations bills being taken up seemed overwhelming, Legislators got off to a late start on taking up the bills. Senate leaders say that occurred because House leadership refused to work on them until a $525 million tax cut was agreed to and passed on March 28.

“I am really concerned with the way the process is rushed,” said Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, adding she was concerned about the possibility of mistakes. “…You really don’t have time to debate or ask questions. The conference reports (final agreements) come so fast.”

Summers said she would like to have seen American Rescue Plan funds earmarked to the city of Jackson because of its unique position as the state’s largest city to deal with its antiquated and subpar water and sewer system. But instead, Jackson, like all the cities in the state, will have an opportunity to apply for grants to get help with the system.

She said she was afraid to vote against the bill offered by the leadership to provide grants.

“If you don’t vote for that, you don’t get to vote for anything,” she said.

House leadership said they understand Jackson plans to put up $25 million of the almost $50 million in ARPA funds it received to hopefully pull down $25 million in state ARPA funds for water and sewer infrastructure needs. The program approved by the Legislature requires a dollar-for-dollar match from bigger cities to access the state ARPA funds.

One area where there was debate during the final days was on providing about $20 million in federal ARPA funds to private schools — both private universities and kindergarten through 12th grade schools. Opponents said public funds should not be spent on private schools.

The private school bill was at first defeated in the Senate, but ultimately the Senate leadership garnered the votes to pass the bill.

Significant additional funds also were spent to enhance efforts to improve the state highway system, including spending $40 million from the surplus funds to match federal funds available through the watershed infrastructure bill approved last year by the U.S. Congress.

“Our cities, counties and constituents have asked us to dedicate our resources to better maintain and add to our infrastructure,” Hosemann said. “This package is a direct response to their request, with projects ranging from critical safety needs to routine maintenance to new infrastructure across our state.”

The Legislature also appropriated about $40 million to improve conditions at state parks. Hosemann said a study indicated it would take about $160 million to address all the needs in the state park system. He said he hopes additional funds are appropriated in the 2023 session for the effort.

READ MORE: Spending billions, cutting taxes, fear and loathing: The 2022 legislative session wasn’t pretty, but it was historic

The post Lawmakers end 2022 session with historic spending spree appeared first on Mississippi Today.

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