JACKSON, Mississippi — For political junkies who can't get enough of the legislative budgeting process or for average folks just curious about how much money is being requested by Mississippi government agencies, the website http://www.lbo.ms.gov is just the ticket.
The Legislative Budget Office now provides information on the budget process, spending requests and budget terminology.
And for folks wanting to see how state government spends tax dollars — be their guest.
Debbie Rubisoff, director of the Mississippi Legislative Budget Office, said the LBO website, since 2011, has provided annual budget information about revenue collections, spending recommendations and the state budget that's adopted each year.
"We have just rewritten our automated budget request system this year and that has allowed us to comply with a new law passed last session which requires, that beginning with the 2017 budget submission, agency budget request submissions must be posted annually on the Legislative Budget Office website and the website of the submitting agency," Rubisoff said in an email.
Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the update to the website also reinforces legislative leaders' commitment to transparency for how tax dollars are spent. He said the proposal was met with some opposition throughout state government but that "told me it was more important that we get it done."
"If you post it for all to see, it will make agencies and agency directors think twice about spending taxpayers' money in an irresponsible manner," Reeves said in an interview. "No agency director or politician wants to be called out for irresponsible spending habits."
Reeves said posting the budget requests online also means members of the Legislature and their staffs, other agencies and interested members of the public have the ability to review documents anytime "and not just during budget hearings."
The 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee makes broad recommendations about how the state should spend tax dollars. The committee comes up with a revenue estimate for the coming year. The estimate is experts' best guess of how much money the state could collect, based on economic performance.
Legislators typically pass more than 100 bills while setting the budget, with half starting in the House and half starting in the Senate. Negotiators from the two chambers face a late-March deadline to agree on budget details and to send those for votes in the full 122-member House and 52-member Senate.
The JLBC will conduct 1-1/2 days of budget hearings beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 21 and into the next day. It is the shortest budget hearing schedule in memory. The committee in 2014 spent four days on state agency spending requests. In previous years, it would spread hearings out over a month.
Reeves said the length of the budget hearings is not as important as lawmakers being provided "pertinent information that will save money for our taxpayers."
The information provided on the LBO website is extensive.
For example, the Department of Mental Health operates several facilities across the state. The largest is the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield in Rankin County. Its request for fiscal 2017 includes a proposed $89.5 million in salaries and benefits plus $11.4 million in additional compensation. The agency is in a competition for adequate staff throughout its system. Whitfield also wants $5.3 million for professional supplies and $1.7 million to replace outdated equipment and furnishings.
Users can see where an agency gets its money (state or federal or fees), descriptions of agency programs, explanation of programs, travel expenses, and numbers of employees and vehicles.
The final appropriations bills can be found in the Legislature's website: http://www.legislature.ms.gov .