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Doty works with state budget committee

A Brookhaven attorney is one of two dozen members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee who will help decide the size of the checks various agencies will receive for Fiscal Year 2021.

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, is in her fourth year on the committee, which heard spending requests Friday at the Woolfolk state building near the Capitol in Jackson from education officials and leaders of the Division of Medicaid, the state Supreme Court and the departments of public safety and wildlife, fisheries and parks.

Doty said the committee will face increase requests of more than $877 million for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. These are increases over the budget amounts that were appropriated last year, she said.

And while they’d like to fund them all, it’s just not possible.

Two years ago, the committee held multiple-day meetings for agencies to parade through on a float of budget requests. Now they only hear from those agencies requesting a “sizeable increase” in their appropriations, Doty said.

“These are agencies who wanted to come and explain to us their needs and why they requested a significant increase,” she said.

One of those Friday was the Department of Public Safety, which is seeking to reduce long waiting lines at drivers’ license offices.

Commissioner Marshall Fisher said the department has increased the starting salaries for driver’s license examiners from $21,000 to $25,000 and is hiring more people to fill the jobs.

The department has also started a “wait anywhere” test project, letting people go online to schedule appointments for driver’s license testing at six offices — two each in the northern, central and southern parts of the state.

DPS requested $59 million over their previously budgeted amount, she said.

Wildlife officials requested funds to renovate outdated facilities at state parks, including a new roof at a Lake Lincoln facility in Lincoln County, Doty said.

Education officials said they want to hire more literacy coaches. Community college officials are requesting money to enhance career technical education. The court system is requesting money to give pay raises to judges.

Doty said Medicaid requested a $16 million increase for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides no-cost or low-cost health coverage for eligible children in Mississippi.

She said federal funding has been cut and Medicaid is looking at the state legislature to fill the void. The federal funding had been at 100 percent for the program then dropped to 94 percent last year.

Doty praised lawmakers for continually pushing for a fiscally conservative budget, which has created a $500 million rainy-day fund.

“Because of the hard decisions we’ve made to get our budget in shape, we are now in a position to really make an impact in some state services,” she said.

The Legislative Budget Office posts spending requests online. Agencies are required to file multiple documents, and sorting through them to get a comprehensive picture is time-consuming.

The Budget Committee usually makes a first set of spending recommendations, and members typically oppose many requests from agencies. That information is sent to the full Legislature, and all 52 senators and 122 House members will get to vote on final budget proposals during the spring.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.