The 2018 legislative session is over, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has released his comprehensive review of the session. Lawmakers adjourned despite being unable to pass a funding overhaul for public education or an infrastructure funding plan for the state’s roads and bridges. Gunn says that the House did what they could to get these bills passed, but two of their three key bills died in the Senate.
“In the House, we said back in December that we had three objectives for this session. Number one was to pass the education funding formula rewrite, number two was to do something for roads and bridges, and number three was to pass Medicaid,” Gunn explained. “We did all three of those things in the House. We fulfilled the goals we set for ourselves, we passed all three of those measures. The first two died on the Senate end. The Medicaid bill would have died, if not for a last-minute push by the House to get it done.”
Gunn said that he believes the education bill failed in part because it was taken up nearly a month after it was passed by the House. He also stated that a provision in the bill stated that the current formula would have remained the same for two years, giving lawmakers time to properly implement the new formula.
The Speaker said that fundamental differences in the two sides’ infrastructure bills did not allow for an agreement to be made. Gunn says that the Senate’s BRIDGE act did not create “real dollars” and was not feasible.
While other key bills died, Gunn said that he was proud of the legislature for passing the 15-week abortion ban which was signed by Governor Bryant.
Gunn’s full breakdown can be read below:
Fiscal Year 2018 Budget
The final budget number agreed upon by both House and Senate members comes in around $6 billion. The state’s revenues are essentially flat.
Bond negotiations between the House and Senate succeeded this year. In order to raise funds, bonds are often issued. Bonds are often necessary to help fund large projects with the intent to repay the debts over time.
This year’s bond package totals $250 million and will go toward funding various projects with statewide impact: $50 million to the Local System Bridge Repair and Rehabilitation Program (LSBP); $82.5 million for universities; $25 million for community colleges; $45 million for Ingalls; $40 million for the Department of Finance and Administration. The package would further provide money for loan programs for small cities and counties to assist with sewer and water projects.
Additional legislation passed that will reduce the fee in lieu from $100 million to $20 million, allowing counties an additional economic development tool to attract new businesses.
The House adopted a stronger version of the Building Roads, Improving Development and Growing the Economy Act (BRIDGE) passed earlier by the Senate.
“Our plan uses real money, without growth triggers, to address this pressing issue faced over the entire state,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “As we have said before, our attempt with this legislation was one of the best things we could have done for local government.”
The House bill made strides on the local and state levels for infrastructure improvements. But ultimately, the Senate would not compromise. Their version would not help cities and counties with real money. The House version recommended a use-tax, which is already gathered from sales tax collected on any out-of- state purchases, including those made online. Approximately $310 million was collected last year. The new diversion will divert 35 percent of use tax collections, which is approximately $108 million by today’s estimates, to cities and counties for road and bridge repair.
The Senate insisted on a one-to-one match for new dollars and cities having “skin in the game.” Cities would only get credit for new money. They would have to address true core functions of government through layoffs or the raising of taxes.
Maintaining our roads & bridges is a fundamental role of government that House members are passionate about supporting. We have led the charge over the last several years to direct real money to cities and counties to assist with road and infrastructure repair. Early in the session, the House offered the Senate several proposals offering solutions. All House proposals were met with an unwillingness of the Senate to negotiate.
“Until we can get a bill that addresses all the needs in the state, we will stand firm,” said Speaker Gunn. “In the eyes of House members, cities and counties already have ‘skin in the game.’ This is your money, and the House has been intent on diverting it back for road and infrastructure needs.”
In addition to the $50 million secured for the LSBP, both chambers adopted legislation that if general fund revenue growth is more than two percent, 50 percent of that growth (up to $100 million annually) will go toward infrastructure improvements: 60 percent will be sent to MDOT for road and bridge repair; 25 percent for county roads and bridges; and 15 percent for city roads and bridges.
In a landmark move, the House passed House bill 1510, the 15-week abortion ban. This bill will provide protections for women and unborn children by prohibiting abortions at or later than 15 weeks gestation. With the passage of HB1510, Mississippi has adopted the strongest pro-life legislation in the country.
Medicaid is a joint state and federal insurance program. The federal government places regulations on the program, which requires states to provide certain services within their program.
The “Medicaid Tech Bill” is legislation the legislature passed years ago that mandates certain optional services the Division of Medicaid, a part of the executive branch of government, must offer. Every so often, including this year, the tech bill comes up for renewal.
This year, members adopted legislation that mandates the managed care companies, which represent about 70 percent of Medicaid patients, pay the same reimbursement rate as the legislature-set rates for Medicaid. Other changes include reimbursements for treatment of opioid dependency, payment options for small rural hospitals with 50 or fewer licensed beds and the creation of a study committee to determine the effects of a potential five percent reduction in reimbursements in hopes of lowering Medicaid costs.
As the face of healthcare constantly evolves, Medicaid must also keep up with the changes. As a result, members determined that the director of the Division should have some leeway in determining the details of some services that are covered: the number of physician visits, prescriptions drugs, emergency medical transportation services, pharmacy services, dental services.
Education is a priority for the Legislature every year. We devote more than half of our budget to education. The House passed sound legislation early in the Session to adopt a new funding formula for public education in Mississippi. The Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act of 2018
“I commend the House members who voted in favor of this solid legislation at the beginning of session,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “They recognized that our children are a priority. I am very disappointed that the Senate missed the opportunity to provide our school children a better funding mechanism.
“Those senators who did not support the legislation failed to do what is best for the students,” he continued. “They let the politics of public education get in the way of our students. We can argue about the dollar amount all day long, but no one can refute that this was a better way to fund education.”
The current funding formula was written almost two decades ago and has not kept up with the needs of the classroom of the 21st Century. We passed legislation to move toward a student-centered funding formula that would consider the needs of all students. Enactment of this legislation would have created a new formula with the following parameters:
- Base student cost set at $4,800, with additional weights added for specific student needs: special education for the different tiers, English language learners, gifted students, low income and high school.
- Funding based on average daily membership (ADM, enrollment figures would be monitored three times a year), rather than average daily attendance (ADA).
- Methods for consistent, accessible reporting. The House leadership had three priorities this session: send real money to cities and counties for road and bridge repair; rewrite the education funding formula and reauthorize Medicaid. The House succeeded in passing all these measures.