Gov. Bryant could call Tuesday session to deal with budget gap

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant AP file photo
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant AP file photo
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant
AP file photo

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Gov. Phil Bryant said Friday that he will call a special legislative session Tuesday to deal with a shortfall as Mississippi’s 2016 budget year comes to a close, unless state collections make such a move unnecessary.

But state revenue would have to gush in the final month of the budget year to remove such a need. On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the state needs to collect between $725 million and $750 million in June to avoid dipping into reserves. That would be a one-month record for state revenue.

The state Revenue Department collected $696 million in June 2015, although there are some small revenue sources that come from elsewhere.

“After reviewing the latest revenue collections, Gov. Bryant has developed a contingency plan that includes a special session on Tuesday, if necessary,” Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler wrote Friday in an email. “He will make a final decision Monday morning. Any special session would be for the sole purpose of closing out fiscal year 2016.”

Mississippi could be looking at a shortfall of as much as $75 million in the $6 billion-plus budget. Bryant has ordered two rounds of budget cuts and dipped into the state rainy day fund to try to make up for lagging tax collections, running $206 million short of original estimates through May. But the Republican governor has only about $5 million left that he can withdraw from the rainy day fund without further legislative authorization.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said the state Revenue Department will report recent sales tax collections Monday, allowing officials to get a better sense of how revenues are shaping up in the final days of the budget year. Clarke said he expects a one-day session in which lawmakers would only give Bryant permission to spend more money from state reserve funds to make the books balance for 2016.

Clarke said he didn’t expect lawmakers to deal with possible problems in the 2017 budget, which starts Friday. Among issues are disputes over the effect of Senate Bill 2362, which Bryant signed into law. The bill directs money that had been confined in fenced-off accounts into the main pot of the state’s general fund. It also tried to sweep $188 million in cash into the 2016 budget. But Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has ruled lawmakers can’t legally take from various trust funds $72 million.

Legislators already acknowledged overestimating revenue by $56 million for the year that starts July 1, because they counted revenue that agencies would collect from each other after they banned such inter-agency collections.

Lawmakers also didn’t budget for debt payments and property insurance in the coming year, and gave Medicaid less than it’s projected to spend in 2016.

Clarke said he’s hoping for a pickup in tax collections in the coming year, which would ease pressure on lawmakers. But Hood, Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat, this week accused Republican lawmakers of creating revenue problems by cutting taxes on businesses and then trying to grab agency cash to cover up the shortfall.

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