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Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is making 1.5 percent budget cuts for many state agencies because tax collections are falling short of expectations

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JACKSON, Mississippi — Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is making 1.5 percent budget cuts for many Mississippi government programs because tax collections are falling short of expectations.

Several big-ticket programs are exempt from the cuts Bryant announced Wednesday. The list includes the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is a complex funding formula for schools. Also exempt are Medicaid, university students' financial aid, veterans services, state debt payments and the entire Department of Public Safety.

In agencies that are being cut, directors will decide how to trim expenses. Although some job cuts are possible, executives might find ways to spend less on supplies or travel, for example, before the year ends June 30.

"Up until December, revenue collections were falling slightly short of the estimate, but they were still more than prior year collections," Bryant wrote Wednesday in a letter to Department of Finance and Administration Director Kevin Upchurch.

"After December's revenue was counted, we recognized the continued downward trend was real and significant, and adjustments to the budget were necessary," Bryant wrote.

This is the first time Bryant has had to make midyear budget cuts since he took office in January 2012.

His predecessor, Republican Haley Barbour, had to make substantial cuts when revenues sputtered during the Great Recession.

Mississippi started fiscal 2016 last July 1 with a budget that topped $6 billion. Bryant said he was making a $75 million "adjustment" to the budget. That translates into cutting $39.8 million and taking $35.2 million from the state's cash reserves in what's commonly called the rainy day fund.

About $375 million will remain in the rainy day fund.

State law says a governor can't cut legislative spending, but Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn said they will reduce the House and Senate budgets to match cuts being made by other agencies.

"As Republicans, we all agree that we are not going to spend money that we do not have," Reeves and Gunn said in a joint statement.

In mid-November, Bryant and members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee reduced the state revenue estimates for the current year and for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1. The estimates are experts' best guess for how much money will be available for state government to spend, based on employment numbers and other economic indicators.

Because of the reduction in the revenue estimates, legislative leaders said the midyear budget cuts announced Wednesday were not a surprise.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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