Legislative Leaders Add $43.8M To Budget Estimate

Healthy economic trends prompted legislative leaders Thursday to add $43.8 million to the budget for the coming year. Decisions will be made in the next few weeks on how to spend the extra money.

"The first thing we ought to fund is the education budget,'' said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, a member of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The revenue estimate for the fiscal year starting July 1 is $3.7 billion. The estimate is the basic number used to write the overall state budget to pay for everything from schools to prisons to health care.

The estimate was raised based on a recommendation from the revenue estimating committee - the state treasurer, the chairman of the state Tax Commission, the state economist, the state fiscal officer and the director of the Legislative Budget Office.

The group studied everything from employment trends to tax collections before making a recommendation.

"In general, the economy is healthy ... and Mississippi is going to follow what happens on the national level,'' state economist Phil Pepper told lawmakers.

Treasurer Tate Reeves said setting a revenue estimate is not an exact science, and tax collections could fluctuate. He also cautioned legislators against planning to spend 100 percent of the expected revenue.

"It's much more difficult on the back end to make budget cuts than it is on the front end,'' Reeves said.

State law says lawmakers can budget only 98 percent of expected revenue. But in tight budget times the past couple of years, legislators have temporarily lifted that restraint and budgeted 100 percent of the expected money.

That leaves the state with less of a financial cushion when revenue falls short of predictions.

For the coming year, Gov. Haley Barbour and legislative leaders have recommended spending 100 percent of projected revenue.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)