- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi lawmakers will agree to a budget that includes $168 million more in spending than previous estimates called for in the year beginning July 1, House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson said Saturday

House and Senate negotiators continued meeting Saturday, agreeing to file placeholder bills with zeroes for spending amounts to technically meet an 8 p.m. deadline. No written documents were available Saturday to document what Frierson said, and numbers could still shift.

Negotiators will file more than 100 budget bills totaling about $6 billion, and lawmakers have until Monday to approve them. Bills passed by the full House and Senate will go to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant for his consideration.

Once money that agencies generate themselves and federal aid are included, Mississippi state government will spend around $18 billion next year.

The $168 million tops the $98 million that lawmakers had declared in new revenue earlier this week. Frierson, a Poplarville Republican, said lawmakers will waive a requirement that the state set aside 2 percent of general revenue to cover potential shortfalls. Lawmakers took more than half the $110 million they saved through the waiver and put it into the 2015 budget. Lt. Gov Tate Reeves said lawmakers could agree to the waiver because Mississippi will put the legal limit of about $410 million in its rainy day fund, its largest savings account.

“What the budget does is spend 100 percent of available, recurring revenue on recurring expenditures,” said Reeves, a Republican.

Many Republicans have pushed to reduce the state’s reliance on “one-time” money, which ballooned as lawmakers struggled with revenue declines during the recession. By the end of 2015, revenues are projected to have grown about 15 percent over three years.

Frierson said there will be money for a $1,500 pay raise for public school teachers, costing about $65 million in 2015. He said no agreement has yet been reached on the pay scale for future years. Most proposals called for three years of pay increases, but the second and third year don’t have to be paid for in 2015.

Frierson said lawmakers would also give a $1,000 raise to some state employees who make less than $30,000 a year. He said he didn’t know how much that would cost. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said Friday about 4,000 to 5,000 employees are potentially covered, costing up to $5 million. Frierson said some of the money would come from self-funded agencies.

Frierson said the state will also train a new class of state troopers for the Highway Patrol, costing $6.9 million.

Lawmakers plan to add $10 million to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, leaving a $255 million gap between what the K-12 funding formula calls for and what it would provide. The program, meant to provide enough money for the state’s 151 school districts, has been $1.27 billion short of full funding from 2009 through the current year.

“If that’s the case, parents and teachers will be angry,” said Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents’ Campaign, which wants more money.

Some state agencies that have been short of money will also get more. The Corrections Department will get $30 million more in its current year budget to close a deficit, plus $10 million more in 2015, although Frierson said it could spend all of the money at any time. Medicaid would get $50 million more to cover a deficit this year and the same $50 million addition again in 2015.