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‘It’s our duty to be prudent’ — Brookhaven’s Sen. Sally Doty is part of group that divvies up tax dollars

State agencies will learn the possible fate of their coffers later this month when Sen. Sally Doty and the rest of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee releases its recommendations for the next budget year.

Doty, R-Brookhaven, said agencies asked for about $800 million more for their budgets for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That’s about a 13 percent increase in a $5.6 billion budget.

Agencies faced Doty and the committee for two days of budget hearings in September. The 14-member bipartisan committee will recommend how to divvy up tax dollars for education, health, prisons and other state government functions.

Doty, who is in her second year on the committee, said recommendations will be voted on at a Nov.  27 meeting and announced at that time.

“As a member of the committee, I have already seen preliminary numbers in executive session,” she said.

Doty, however, must stay mum until the meeting.

Those recommendations are a first step in setting the final budgets for agencies, she said. All lawmakers will get to vote on a spending plan during a three-month session that starts in January.

“During the 2018 session, the appropriations committee will spend time hearing from agencies and may recommend increases or decreases to the JLBC recommendation,” she said.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, serves on that committee.

“Also, changes can be made when the appropriations bill is on the floor for consideration,” Doty said. “Ultimately, the final budget numbers are set at the very end of the session, and are hashed out by a conference committee.”

That committee sends a conference report to the floor of both houses for an up or down vote, she said.

Despite agencies asking for more to keep their wheels turning, the $5.6 billion available to spend during FY 2019 is $1.5 million less than the estimate for the current year.

Economist Darrin Webb is in a five-member group that recommended the revenue estimate that lawmakers will use as a basis for writing the budget.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said that Webb and his group missed the revenue estimate last year. That estimate can make or break a state, even if it’s only off 1 percent. That 1 percent miss last year amounted to $56 million.

“I think it’s prudent for us to have a very conservative revenue estimates,” Reeves said.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has described the revenue estimate for the coming year as “realistic” to media outlets.

Doty said she agrees with taking a conservative approach to the revenue forecast.

“The budget is made up of taxpayers’ hard earned money and it is our duty to be prudent with those funds,” she said.

Sen. Sally Doty