State revenues for the recent budget year came in slightly ahead of expectations, showing the state economy is possibly on the up-swing. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said it also requires caution when it comes to spending.
In the new budget year, state government will only spend money on recurring expenses as well as working to fill the state's Rainy Day Fund. The new 2015 budget will increase funding for public schools, community colleges, universities and public safety.
According to Lt. Gov. Reeves, "State government is finally doing what taxpayers do every day in their homes and businesses: spending what it takes in, prioritizing needs and saving money for a rainy day."
By the end of 2014, the state collected %5.25 billion in general funds and filled the Rainy Day fund to its statutory limit of $409 million.
"By saving, the state can be prepared for a down economy like we saw in Fiscal Year 2010 when the budget was slashed several times during the year because of the Great Recession," Lt. Gov. Reeves said. "With President Obama's continued mishandling of the economy, states need to be prepared to deal with any slowdowns in the economy and potential revenue dips."
Fiscal Year 2015 Budget
The nearly $6 billion budget that takes effect today:
· Spends $80 million to improve roads and bridges and repairs and renovations at universities, community colleges and state buildings. This funding is part of Lt. Gov. Reeves' commitment to stop legislators from bonding repairs, such as new roofs and air conditioners, and fund those needs with appropriations.
· Boosts funds for the Department of Public Safety by $20 million over the current budget year, which includes funding for a trooper school and equipment, such as bulletproof vests.
· Funds public education at $2.4 billion, which includes increased funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program by $72 million. In Lt. Gov. Reeves' three years in office, public education funding has grown $140 million.
· Allocates another $25 million to the Institutions of Higher Learning over the current budget year.
· Maintains the Legislature's commitment to community and junior colleges by providing $258 million, more than the CJC's budget low point in 2011 of $223 million. This year, another $4 million will target workforce training programs.
· Increases funding by $4 million to support agricultural units, including the Mississippi State University Extension Service that supports the state's agricultural industry.
· Imposes a year-long moratorium on state vehicle purchases with an exception for emergency vehicles. A previous moratorium in 2012 saved taxpayers $9.9 million.
A new teacher pay plan also takes effect today. Teachers will see $1,500 more in their next paycheck, the result of an effort to make salaries more competitive and attract the best and brightest individuals to the field.
By July 2015, teachers should be seeing about $3,500 more in their checks through this new pay plan and the statutory raises.
"The way to improve education in Mississippi is to put a quality teacher in every classroom," Lt. Gov. Reeves said. "This plan raises starting pay to attract the best and brightest into education and establishes the first true merit pay program in the state."
The merit pay plan rewards teachers and staff at schools that show academic improvement each year under the School Recognition Program implemented in Fiscal Year 2017.
The Mississippi Community-Oriented Policing Program is renewed today with $3.5 million.
The program, proposed by Lt. Gov. Reeves last year, provides communities with a matching grant to place officers on school campuses. In Fiscal Year 2014, a total of 220 officers were placed at schools across Mississippi through the MCOPS program.
Legislation in effect today
Other bills taking effect today include:
· The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act guarantees government cannot overreach and interfere with Mississippians' right to exercise religion. The bill also adds "In God We Trust" to the state seal.
"The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act ensures government cannot interfere with Mississippians' rights to exercise religion in their daily lives and their business," Lt. Gov. Reeves said.
· A prohibition on abortions after 20 weeks. Lt. Gov. Reeves said, "I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and I believe this bill moves us toward that goal."
· The state Department of Human Services will begin to determine whether individuals enrolled in the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families use illegal drugs. If the recipient tests positive, the recipient would need to seek treatment to be eligible for benefits. The program is similar to an initiative in Utah.
· A law to clarify the limits on cities and counties to restrict the carrying of firearms. The bill also prohibits the governor from taking guns in a state of emergency and cities and counties from participating in gun buybacks unless the entities auction off any firearm received to a federally licensed dealer with proceeds reverting to government's general fund.
· A sales tax break for sports enthusiasts on firearms, ammunition, hunting supplies and fishing supplies purchased the first weekend of September. Louisiana has a similar holiday.
"I remain committed to protecting every Mississippians' Second Amendment rights," Lt. Gov. Reeves said. "I'm thankful for the support of the National Rifle Association on the many other strong Second Amendment protections we've passed this year."
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