This year’s general fund budget will have growth even over pre-Covid-19 fiscal 2020 levels according to an analysis of appropriation bills from the past three budget cycles.
Looking at the biggest outlays in the budget — K-12 education, Medicaid, higher education, transportation (funded by gas tax revenues and some other funds), corrections, other welfare programs and mental health — and six out of nine have increases in the fiscal 2022 appropriations compared to fiscal 2020.
The way the budgetary process works in Mississippi is that an estimate is provided for tax revenues expected in the coming fiscal year (which always starts on July 1), agencies submit budget requests and lawmakers use this estimate and the requests to draft a budget plan, as does Gov. Tate Reeves’ staff. Then in the final weeks of the session, lawmakers draft and pass separate appropriation bills for each agency that compromise the budget.
In the run-up to the 2020 session — when final preparations were being made for the fiscal 2021 budget cycle — lawmakers expected a tax revenue bonanza. Discussions were held about teacher pay raises and other spending ideas to best utilize this uptick in revenues.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, lockdowns shuttered stores and kept people at home and tax revenues tanked. Lawmakers were forced to make drastic cuts.
Here is the breakdown on the largest general fund outlays in the budget and how they’ve changed since fiscal 2020:
Department of Education
The general fund outlay for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) that is distributed to school districts statewide was a robust $1.994 billion for fiscal 2020. The MDE received a 2.66 percent boost to $2.047 billion for fiscal 2021, one of only two of the nine biggest spending items to receive an increase.
For fiscal 2022, in addition to a $1,000 pay hike that will likely cost about $56 million annually, the MDE’s MAEP appropriation is $2.303 billion, a 15.5 percent increase (more than $399 million) from fiscal 2020.
Department of Transportation
MDOT had its appropriation reduced by 1.72 percent (about $19 million), going from $1.105 billion in fiscal 2020 to $1.086 billion in fiscal 2021. The department will receive $1.159 billion in fiscal 2022, a nearly 5 percent hike from fiscal 2020.
The state Department of Medicaid receives most of its funds from federal sources, but the state match in fiscal 2020 added up to $931 million. That decreased by 3.44 percent to $899 million in fiscal 2021 and will shrink a few tenths to $898 million for 2022. That is a 3.54 percent decrease from 2020.
This general support appropriation for the Institutes of Higher Education goes to the state’s universities and in fiscal 2020, appropriators issued $940 million for this purpose. There was a slight decrease ($1 million) in fiscal 2021 before lawmakers appropriated $997 million for fiscal 2021 or an increase of 6.06 percent over fiscal 2020 numbers.
The state’s community colleges took a slight hit ($5 million fewer dollars) from fiscal 2020 to fiscal 2021. In fiscal 2020, lawmakers appropriated $148.3 million, but that figure declined to $143.3 million the following year for a 3.37 percent cut. This year, the outlay added up to $146 million or a 1.55 percent reduction from fiscal 2020.
The state has to be pay annual debt service on general obligation bonds issued for capital projects and other debts. In fiscal 2020, taxpayers paid $385 million for debt service. That figure increased to $436 million the next year and $439 million for fiscal 2022, representing a more than 14 percent increase compared to fiscal 2020.
The Department of Corrections had its budget rebound after being cut in fiscal 2021. In fiscal 2020, lawmakers appropriated $316.4 million and that decreased by 1.77 percent to $310 million for the present fiscal year. In fiscal 2022, lawmakers allocated $323.5 million for the state’s prison system, an increase of 2.24 percent over fiscal 2020.
The state Department of Mental Health took a nearly 1 percent cut in its funds between fiscal 2020 ($213.6 million) to fiscal 2021 ($211.6 million). Compared with 2020, this year’s allocation is $214 million or a 0.19 percent increase.
The state Department of Human Services manages the state’s welfare programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families). While most of its funds come from federal sources, the general fund provided $69.8 million in fiscal 2020. This was cut by 3.44 percent in fiscal 2021 to $67.4 million before rebounding to $68.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year.