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Poor forecast, hard work ahead for state lawmakers

It’s the beginning of budget season for the state, with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee hearing requests from state agencies this week.

And, to no one’s surprise, several agencies are requesting more money. The total requested is about $800 million more for the next budget year. Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, in her second year to serve on the committee, said there likely won’t be enough tax revenue to fill all those requests.

“Almost everyone who has come in today has asked for additional money,” she told The Daily Leader Thursday. “We know that we will not be able to meet their entire request. Every agency that comes in knows that.”

Included in that request is an additional $500,000 for the Mississippi School of the Arts.

Other requests included:

• More money for the Department of Public Safety to fight the opioid drug crisis.

• More money to hire additional state Troopers.

• More money for Child Protection Services to fill vacancies.

• More money for Medicaid.

Our hope is that state agencies are requesting what is actually needed and not padding their requests with the assumption that legislators will only provide a portion of what they ask for.  We also hope legislators carefully consider these requests in light of what may be a gloomier-than-expected year for tax revenue.

State economist Darrin Webb told lawmakers Thursday that Mississippi has had “lackluster” economic performance since the Great Recession, and pay levels have not grown significantly.

“A lot of the jobs that we have created over the past few years have been either part-time or low-paying,” Webb said.

He said he expects continued slow growth, partly because Mississippi has a large number of people of working age who don’t have jobs.

That forecast will not inspire confidence in lawmakers as they begin to craft a new budget. It will be tough work for sure, but it’s why we elect them to office.