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Legislators setting final budget pieces

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers have little flexibility in setting the final pieces of the $6 billion state budget.

The fiscal year starts July 1, and dollar amounts for most agencies were approved before legislators ended their regular session two months ago.

A special session started at 10 a.m. Monday, and legislators need to set budgets for the attorney general and the Department of Transportation.

Attorney General Jim Hood is requesting $4 million more than legislators considered giving his office during the regular session. That would cover a portion of the budget cuts from the past two years.

Hood said he needs the money to purse online criminals, including people who exploit children.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said investigating cybercrime is a worthy cause, but it might be difficult to find the money.

“I’m not aware of any money lying around,” Snowden said. “This is the last train down the tracks.”

Hood said last week that he has one idea of where lawmakers can find money: The attorney general’s office recently reached a $2 million settlement with a company tied to a long-running bribery scheme in the state prison system. A company that made drug testing cups agreed to the settlement without admitting any wrongdoing.

Snowden said if legislators can’t find money to cover Hood’s $4 million request during the special session, Hood could request more money after the budget year begins. Such requests are not unusual in state government.

Legislators will also consider Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposals to make long-term changes to the budget process. Among other things, Bryant wants legislators to build up more savings in the state’s rainy day fund.