Budget fix shows financial mess

Published 9:48 am Friday, September 9, 2016

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is cutting $56.8 million from the $5.8 billion state budget to make up for an accounting error, The Associated Press reported this week.

The cuts were announced just two months into the new budget year.

While $56.8 million is a small percentage of the state’s overall budget, it’s still a pile of money. And cutting it from the state’s budget because of an accounting error is a big deal.

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Officials overestimated how much the state might collect during the current fiscal year when the budget was created. When the error was found, state officials hoped strong tax collections would offset the shortfall. That hasn’t happened.

“I am hopeful that these adjustments will be sufficient to get state government through this fiscal year, but budget cuts or transfers from the Rainy Day Fund may be required later,” Bryant wrote in a letter to Laura Jackson, the state fiscal officer. “I strongly recommend that all agencies closely monitor spending and continue to make fiscally conservative budget decisions.”

Funding for most programs will be cut just over 1.6 percent, AP reported. Bryant trimmed the state’s budget twice in the previous fiscal year, but those cuts happened relatively late in the year. This round of cuts is unusually early in the fiscal year.

Oddly, Bryant criticized general fund spending over the last four years, saying it had increased five times the rate of inflation. Bryant signed off on the budgets during those years so the blame falls squarely on his shoulders and those of his party.

Bryant also pointed out that Republican leaders had created groups to examine taxes and spending, as if they did not already have knowledge of those topics. It was the same Republicans who created recent budgets that detailed things like taxes and spending. Haven’t they been studying those topics during the budgeting process? Apparently not.

Maybe that’s why the state’s budget is a mess in need of Bryant’s quick fix.