Governor Could Dip Deeper into Mississippi Rainy Day Fund

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi House members will return Wednesday to finish giving Gov. Phil Bryant permission to take as much as he needs from financial reserves to cover a deficit of up to $75 million for the budget year ending at midnight Thursday.

Senators voted 33-14 Tuesday for a one-time removal of the $50 million limit on how much a governor can pull from the rainy day fund in a budget year.

Representatives might have voted on Senate Bill 2001 and gone home as well on Tuesday, but Democrats used a procedural vote to block this same-day consideration, complaining that Republicans had denied them detailed information about the budget process.

"It's been a pure dictatorship, from the top down," said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the Democrats have only themselves to blame for extending the special session for another day, costing taxpayers another $33,000.

The Republican governor already made two rounds of cuts in the current year's $6 billion spending plan, and taken $45 million from the rainy day fund, which has a remaining balance of about the $350 million.

Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said agencies can only spend what the Legislature appropriates, so any rainy-day money not needed to balance the 2016 budget will be waiting for lawmakers when they return in January.

Bryant excluded discussion of the 2017 budget during the special session, despite complaints from Democrats, who blame the shortfall on cuts in business taxes.

"It's impossible to take up the 2016 budget without affecting the 2017 budget," said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-AmBory.

Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, said Republicans also underfunded health care and ignored the need to fix highways and bridges.

"The state has gone amok," Hines said. "The budget is out of control."

The funding of most state agencies is being cut for 2017, and Republican legislative leaders are moving to sweep some special accounts into the general budget, saying the change will make spending more transparent.

Several agency leaders say it's creating a legal mess that could put programs at risk.

Republicans stood by Bryant's decision to exclude discussion of the 2017 budget.

"Whether we're going to have in issue in fiscal year 2017, nobody knows, because we're going to have to determine if we have revenue growth," Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said.

State Republican Party chairman Joe Nosef said "these same Democrat legislators who are now criticizing tax cuts actually voted in favor of them in prior legislative sessions."

House Minority Leader David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said he offered to debate the bill Tuesday after Democrats received budget information. Republicans, though, said Baria didn't make that offer clearly or early enough.


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