JACKSON, Miss. — Negotiators in the Mississippi House and Senate have agreed to most parts of a roughly $6 billion state government budget for the year that begins July 1, including increases for education, health programs and foster care.
Lawmakers filed final versions of most budget bills Saturday night but were still working on a few important ones. The K-12 education budget bill was delayed, although leaders had agreed to a $9 million increase for schools.
“I’m very pleased with what we have at this point — if we can hold it together for the next 24 hours,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Read, a Republican from Gautier.
Negotiators also agreed on a borrowing package of about $280 million in bonds to finance several projects.
If all goes as scheduled, the full House and Senate will start debating and passing budget and bond bills Sunday, and the three-month legislative session will end sometime next week.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said $3 million of the education increase is for early childhood programs. Additional money will also go into financial rewards for teachers in school districts that are A or B rated or that improve their ratings by at least one letter grade, like a report card.
Universities are on also track to receive a $9 million increase.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, a Republican from Meridian, said the Department of Public Safety will receive money to hire experts in the medical examiner’s office. He said staffing shortages there have delayed autopsies, and families have had to wait a long time for death certificates.
“We’re talking about medical professionals. It’s just difficult to hire these people,” Snowden said.
Medicaid — the government health insurance program for the needy — will receive about the same amount of money in the coming year, said Senate Medicaid Committee Chairman Brice Wiggins, a Republican from Pascagoula.
While Mississippi legislators generally discuss the overall state budget in terms of the $6 billion being allocated in state dollars, the total grows to about $20 billion once federal money is added.
Negotiators signed off on about $260 million of the bond package Saturday, including $50 million to replace some local bridges, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, a Republican from Sumrall.
The package also has $82.5 million for universities, $25 million for community colleges, $45 million for state agencies and $45 million to help Ingalls Shipbuilding, said Fillingane and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, a Republican from Columbus. They said the bond package would also provide money for loan programs — $5 million for small cities and counties, $1 million for sewer projects and $1 million for water projects.
A late addition to the bond bill was $5 million for the Military Department, which is likely to be matched with $20 million in federal money to build a new National Guard armory in DeSoto County. Reeves said the current armory there is in an old Walmart. “It is a disgrace,” he said.
Fillingane had said early Saturday that the bond bill would not finance items in specific parts of the state: “There are no pet projects in any of this.”
A separate $20 million bond bill for Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s job-creation agency, has already been signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.
The state issues bonds to provide money for big-ticket items, and the bonds are paid off over several years. If legislators and the governor agree on projects, the bonds must also be approved separately by a state commission made up of the governor, state treasurer and attorney general.
Last year, legislators could not agree on a bond package for universities or community colleges.
“I think it would be highly unusual to go two straight years without having one,” Fillingane said.
Republican legislative leaders said Friday they had hit a dead end in discussions about creating a comprehensive plan to put more money into highways. The House would not agree to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ insistence on a plan requiring cities to increase their own infrastructure spending in order to receive state money for infrastructure projects. House Speaker Philip Gunn said most cities in Mississippi are small and can’t afford to spend more than they already are.
Smith said Saturday that there is a “huge move” among House members who want to delay a final vote on bond bills as a way to force more discussion on a long-term transportation funding plan. He said that “would be a disaster” because it could ultimately cause the bond bills to fail.
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