- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has gotten lawmakers’ permission to pull tens of millions more dollars from financial reserves to cover deficits as the state budget year ends - but he got it only after a contentious House debate in which one Democrat called the budget a “hot mess.”

Meeting in special session, House members spent more than three hours bickering Wednesday before voting 72-38 for a bill the Senate had passed more easily the day before. Ten House members were absent or didn’t vote, and two seats are vacant. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans in support and most Democrats in opposition.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said the Republican supermajority has excluded Democrats from writing budgets and Republicans are shrinking government to the point that it’s hurting people’s lives. He warned that Mississippi is on track to have massive budget problems like Kansas and Louisiana.

“We’re going to give you a hot mess. You want it? You’re getting ready to have it,” Johnson said. “Sweat it out. Watch it go down in flames. … It won’t get corrected until everybody feels the pain.”

Senate Bill 2001 says that only for this budget year, which ends at midnight Thursday, the governor may withdraw more than $50 million from the state rainy day fund.

With state tax collections falling significantly behind expectations, Republican Bryant had already made two rounds of budget cuts and withdrawn $45 million from the rainy day fund earlier this year. The fund has a $349 million balance, and Republican legislative leaders said they expect Bryant will need to withdraw about another $60 million.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said every budget is based on experts’ estimate of how much money the state might collect in taxes and fees in a given year.

For the year that’s about to end, he said: “The estimate was wrong because we didn’t see some things going on in the economy.”

When Democrats asked whether tax cuts in recent years are to blame for the budget shortfall, Frierson said many of them had voted for the cuts. He also said many of them had voted for the current budget, which was adopted in the spring of 2015 - the final year of the previous four-year term.

“If you vote for an appropriation and the appropriation goes (in) disarray and you voted yes for it, you are as responsible for it as I am,” said Frierson, who is in his final days as a legislator. He becomes director of the state Department of Revenue when the new budget year begins Friday.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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