JACKSON -- Mississippi lawmakers are working on early versions of budget bills, and final negotiations are weeks away.
They're deciding how to spend tax dollars during fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1.
A tale of two budgets
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee proposes $5.9 billion in state spending, while Gov. Phil Bryant proposes $6.1 billion.
During early stages of budget writing, the governor has more flexibility to make assumptions about how much money the state will collect for such things as lawsuit settlements. Lawmakers are supposed to limit themselves to sources of money that are more firmly guaranteed.
However, at some point in the next few weeks, legislative budget writers will review the state's economic performance and decide whether to increase their estimate of how much money will be available to spend.
Legislators typically pass more than 100 bills while setting the budget, with half starting in the House and half starting in the Senate. Negotiators from the two chambers face a late-March deadline to agree on budget details and to send those for votes in the full 122-member House and 52-member Senate.
A teacher pay raise plan that passed the House is awaiting consideration in the Senate, and its prospects there are uncertain.
A battle for pay raises
Some Democrats have pushed for across-the-board pay raises for all state employees, but those proposals have gotten little discussion among Republicans who lead the two chambers.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said Tuesday state workers have seen their spending power decrease in recent years because their insurance and retirement costs have increased while their wages have been stagnant. He said state government needs to take care of its employees by paying fair wages.
"You can't make your widgets without good widget makers," Bryan said.
Bryant and leaders of the House and Senate have proposed putting more money into universities and community colleges. The governor is also asking lawmakers to allocate $6.9 million to train a new group of state troopers.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Eugene "Buck" Clarke, R-Hollandale, said Tuesday that the early version of a Department of Public Safety budget bill does not include money for the trooper training, but that could be added later.