Budget notes

As the Clarion Ledger keeps digging into a previously little-known practice used by influential Mississippi legislators to direct money to pet causes or pet state agencies, it keeps finding surprises.

The latest revelation is that top lawmakers and legislative budget staffers routinely award millions of dollars in pay raises using so-called “budget notes.”

Budget notes, which only Capitol insiders knew much about until recently, are supposed to be used to clarify unclear language in budget bills passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. But what they have become is a mechanism for creating earmarks — authorizing expenditures, awarding contracts, giving out raises that the majority of lawmakers know nothing about.

Some of this spending might be justifiable — such as raising the pay of key state employees or of rank-and-file positions that turn over too much because of uncompetitive salaries. Some of this spending is ludicrous — such as paying a company $2.3 million to hang up posters in public schools.

But all of it is being done contrary to the way contracts are supposed to be awarded or raises are supposed to be given: that is, a few insiders are calling the shots, bypassing the majority of the Legislature and keeping the public in the dark.

Budget notes, from what we can tell of the practice, is a way to dodge the state’s bid laws and to reward cronies. The practice should be ended.

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