The governor has signed the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act (Senate Bill 2362), which negates the process established by the Legislature many years ago.
The initial legislation established a procedure allowing a portion of state money to be allocated to the Domestic Violence Program in Mississippi. During the ensuing years, the procedure has expanded to fund many other programs.
The bill passed this year directs all fines and fees to the state's General Fund. One of the main purposes of this bill was to create transparency and accountability and put money back into the General Fund to help offset the expected budget shortfall.
Additionally, the discovery of a clerical error makes the 2017 budget problem -- of $56.8 million -- greater. The former system required detailed records of all transactions, which already provided transparency and accountability. At the end of the legislative session, that all changed. Programs listed in HB 298 and SB 298 are now required to be funded by specific legislation, making it more of a guessing game for program managers when trying to establish budgets for their programs.
The bigger problem here lies in the fact that when these funds become part of the General Fund, the money can be used anywhere the Legislature directs, e.g., tax cuts that apply to higher-income people and businesses and not necessarily to the programs that were funded prior to this legislation.
The affected programs supported the lower portion of the income spectrum of Mississippi's residents. It appears, once again, the tax breaks enacted this year are being funded to the detriment of these folks.