Of Shortfalls, Cuts, Contrasting Oversight, and Reverse Repealers

Our Legislature faces deteriorating finances as they move to fund state government for next fiscal year.

Calling revenue collections for this fiscal year “disappointing,” the Daily Journal’s Bobby Harrison reported “revenue is $116 million or 4 percent below projections” for the year after falling another $18.5 million in January. In an earlier article he noted Governor Phil Bryant may have to cut existing state budgets again. Already the Governor “has been forced to cut budgets four times within a 12-month period and dip into the rainy day fund twice,” wrote Harrison.

Shortfalls and cuts this fiscal year bode ill for next year. Legislators will start with less and can expect less from next year’s collections.

Legislators’ efforts to up revenue are meeting opposition. A bill to tax fantasy sports gambling, eh, gaming, failed. A bill to push out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes (called use taxes), similar to one adopted in Alabama, is under attack by the Mississippi Tea Party. They also attacked Commissioner of Revenue Herb Frierson for getting Amazon to voluntarily collect taxes on its sales. Proposals to raise revenue to fix deteriorating roads and bridges continue to be attacked by the Mississippi branch of Americans for Prosperity.

Another hit to next year’s finances come as cuts to business taxes and personal income taxes, passed last year, begin phasing in.

In the face of these financial troubles, it only makes sense for state agencies to right size staffing. The House narrowly passed and sent to the Senate a bill allowing agency heads to ignore civil service rules to streamline operations.

House Appropriations Chairman John Read told colleagues that agency directors need this flexibility. The Clarion-Ledger reported legislative leaders hope to save $13 million from staff cuts. These cuts would add to the 1,999 unfilled positions legislators plan to eliminate. (Note to PERS – this will hurt.)

In other action, the House sent the Senate a bill to give the Governor authority to approve or disapprove operating regulations of state boards “controlled by active market participants.” These are mostly boards made up of licensed practitioners who approve licenses for new practitioners. A U.S. Supreme Court decision made such boards subject to anti-trust rules unless actively overseen by government, an issue the bill resolves. In addition to accountability oversight, the Governor should be able to improve efficiency and customer service among those boards not so good at such behavior. That would be a good thing.

In contrast, the House sent the Senate a bill authorizing the University of Mississippi Medical Center to establish public corporations with limited government oversight. The bill, modeled after one in Alabama, will allow UMMC to establish cooperative arrangements or affiliations with other health care facilities and providers to improve quality of care and lower health care costs. The bill also mitigates anti-trust rules for such arrangements. With appropriate financial oversight, it will be a good way to give UMMC equal footing with out-of-state hospitals encroaching on our state.

These last two items must go to conference, if passed by the Senate, to become actionable since the House meekly put reverse repealers in them.

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