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Legislators, flush with cash, hope to finish budget early next week

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Legislators, working with an unprecedented amount of money thanks to record state tax collections and $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus-relief funds, are slated to return to the state Capitol Monday morning with hopes of finalizing a state budget.

House Speaker Philip Gunn said the goal is to complete the task and end the 2022 legislative session by Tuesday.

Legislators were scheduled to complete the budgeting process early last week, but twice have had to extend the session to complete the process.

“We have a few little details to take care of” to finalize a budget agreement, said Senate Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg.

The budget is likely to be about $300 million more than the $6.56 billion overall state support budget passed during the 2021 session. That will include the $246 million already committed for a pay raise averaging $5,145 for teachers and a 3% raise for state Highway Patrol troopers and for Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics officers. Money also will be set aside to provide raises for some state employees to get their salaries closer to regional averages.

Hopson said the final budget agreement that will be offered for legislators to vote on also will likely include additional funds for early childhood education and for the school building fund.

It is not clear, though, whether the budget will include additional money for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of the basics to operate local school districts. Early budget projections had MAEP about 10% short of full funding.

Negotiators said they are likely to commit to spending $1.5 billion of the $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 funds this session. The bulk of those funds will be used to help local governments with their water and sewer infrastructure needs.

The funds also will be used:

  • To provide funds to the departments of Corrections, Mental Health and Child Protection Services to deal with lawsuits or pending lawsuits based on substandard conditions.
  • To enhance tourism efforts.
  • To shore up needs in the health care system highlighted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Finance Chair Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, said the state will be able to save about $30 million this year by not passing a bond bill. The Legislature often incurs debt for the state by issuing bonds to finance various construction projects. Instead, this year the projects will be funded through the more than $1 billion in surplus funds the state has because of the unprecedented revenue collections.  Those funds are expected to be used for state building construction, construction at the universities and community colleges and for road and bridge needs.

Those funds also could be used for local construction projects approved by the Legislature.

The post Legislators, flush with cash, hope to finish budget early next week appeared first on Mississippi Today .

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