- Associated Press - Friday, June 2, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is asking legislators to tweak the budget process to ease rating agencies’ concerns about the state’s finances.

The Republican on Friday released the agenda for a special legislative session that begins Monday. It includes a list of proposals that Bryant calls the “Fortify Act.”

He is asking legislators to build up savings in the state’s rainy day fund.

He also wants to formalize a requirement for the Legislative Budget Office to write a multiyear proposal for how the state will handle its money. Bryant said the office already does this, but rating agencies are happier when the practice is mandated by law.

State budgets are written months in advance based on estimates of how much money will be available. The estimates typically include a relatively small amount of money that experts think will be left over at the end of one budget year and carried into the next. Bryant is asking lawmakers to stop using the carry-over money as part of the estimate for the next year.

“This takes some of the guesswork out of preparing the budget and allows for the purest estimate of revenue in any given year,” he said Friday.

Bryant is also asking lawmakers to rename the Budget Contingency Fund - an all-purpose fund created more than a decade ago by scraping together a variety of revenue sources to pad the state budget. He wants to call it the Deepwater Horizon Settlement Reserve Fund, making it a holding place for a portion of the $2.2 billion Mississippi is to receive under a multistate settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. About $1.5 billion is for environmental restoration and economic development, and the Legislature will decide how to spend the other $750 million over 17 years. Bryant’s special session agenda does not propose any ways to spend the money.

Three credit rating agencies - Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s Financial Services - have expressed concerns about Mississippi’s finances since last summer.

During the special session, Bryant is also asking lawmakers to revise a 2016 law that attempted to simplify the budget process by wiping out the practice of some state government agencies paying others for things such as rent and technology services. It was also supposed to move all “special funds,” which are fees collected for specific programs, into the general state budget.

Attorney General Jim Hood said the 2016 law has prevented some agencies from using federal money for specific expenses. Bryant wants lawmakers to specify that federal money can be spent on utility payments and technology.

Lawmakers in special session also need to set budgets for the attorney general’s office and the Department of Transportation and for the year that begins July 1. They wrote other parts of the overall $6 billion budget during the regular session that ended in late March, but the House and Senate disagreed on spending plans for those agencies.


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

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