June 6, 2017 10:11:36 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi lawmakers met in special session Monday and set the final pieces of the state budget for the year that begins July 1.
Most of the $6 billion budget was approved before the regular session ended in late March, but then disputes between the House and Senate killed proposals to fund the attorney general's office and the Department of Transportation.
Budget bills for those two agencies quickly passed the House on Monday, and passed the Senate hours later. Both bills go to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature or veto.
Legislators rejected Attorney General Jim Hood's request for $4 million more than they proposed giving his office during the regular session. He said that would cover a portion of the budget cuts from the past two years.
Hood, the only Democrat in statewide office, said he needs the money to purse online criminals, including people who exploit children. House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, a Republican from Meridian, said investigating cybercrime is a worthy cause, and Hood could request more money after the budget year begins. Such requests are not unusual in state government.
Legislators on Monday also passed Bryant's proposals to make long-term changes to the budget process to ease credit rating agencies' concerns about Mississippi's finances. The state would be required to build up more savings in its rainy day fund. The Legislative Budget Office would be required to write a multiyear proposal for how the state will handle its money. Bryant said the office already does this, but rating agencies are happier when the practice is mandated by law.
State budgets are written months in advance based on estimates of how much money will be available. The estimates typically include a relatively small amount of money that experts think will be left over at the end of one budget year and carried into the next. Under Bryant's plan, the state would stop using the carry-over money as part of the estimate for the next year.
Legislators also passed one bill to resolve a dispute over lease payments for Gulf Coast waterfront property occupied by a casino and another bill to let the secretary of state make some payments to local governments before the current budget year ends June 30.
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