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Agencies ask lawmakers for additional funds

Lawmakers have officially started with the process of writing a state budget. During the joint legislative budget hearing, directors from six state agencies presented their budget requests.

While all state agencies have submitted their budget requests for 2020, this year the 14 member committee only heard from six agencies. The hearing began with a presentation from the state economist with good news that Mississippi’s economy is seeing an upswing.

“We are above our revenue estimates at this point and we are just two months into the fiscal year, so that’s a positive sign, but we are not hundreds of millions of dollars ahead, said Representative Scott Bounds. “We are ahead, we are millions of dollars ahead, but we are not hundreds of millions of dollars ahead of our revenue estimates so we have to be cognizant of that.”

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall said they are in need of better prisons and asked for $22M to refurbish Unit 29, the hardened criminal unit at Parchman.

However, some discussion as to whether the money would be best spent by renovating the facility or if moving the prisoners to another facility would be more cost-effective. The facility was built in the 1980s and many repairs need to be done to make it maximum security.

“A lot of the walls have been hollowed out where contraband can be passed,” Bounds said.

“We are either going to have to come forward with the $22M to be able to house the prisoners, and whether it is in unit 29 in a refurbished facility, or whether we move them to another facility. so, we will have to weigh it all and see.”

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn served as the Chairman of the committee this year and said he believes the hearing went well. No decisions have been made yet regarding the MDOC’s request as the hearing is just the first step, however, it will likely be a topic of discuss for the upcoming legislative session.

“I am sure we will revise our revenue estimate sometime during the session once the legislature gets back into session and so we will know more, when we get in session of how much we can not only do extra for these agencies, but for the other agencies who have submitted their budget requests also.”

Mississippi’s Division of Medicaid said they plan on not having to ask for deficit appropriations for FY19.

“We were very pleased with Medicaid’s report this year,” said Gunn. “For the last several years, we have requested a list of ways the agency could cut costs, without disrupting services. This year, the new director provided that list to us, while also lowering their deficit from $40 million to $5 million. That is efficiency we appreciate in the Legislature.”

Multiple factors were the result of the choice and Bounds said the economy, as well as, streamlining processes has resulted in cost savings for the taxpayers.

The Department of Education presented successes with the early learning collaboratives and the third-grade reading gate and again asked for the full funding of the MAEP formula which lawmakers have yet to make a decision on revising.

“All of the things that were doom and gloom when they were passed are working out now,” Bounds said.

Bounds added that they are going to seek to put all of the money into public education that the state can afford.

“At the end of the day whether it is education or corrections, we’ve got to be mindful of the taxpayers who are the ones footing the bill for this,” Bounds said. “We don’t anticipate spending money that we don’t have going into fiscal year 20.”

Other agencies at the hearing were the Public Employment Retirement System, PERS, requesting that state and local government pay more into the system for employees. Child Protection Services said their biggest need was having the ability to hire more caseworkers while the Department of Public Safety said they are in desperate need of another trooper school to allow for more troopers to be on the roadways keeping Mississippians safe.

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