BOBBY HARRISON: Despite funding increases, Mississippi sits at bottom

BOBBY HARRISON

Public education in Mississippi, kindergarten through 12 grade, garners $2.54 billion of the total $6.26 billion state-support budget or $2.54 billion of a total $11.8 billion state budget – depending on how the state budget is defined.

Now some might say that is a lot of money going to education – and it is. But to put it another way – Mississippi ranks near the bottom in per pupil expenditures even though the state has the nation’s highest percentage of children living in poverty, who are by all accounts more difficult and more expensive to educate.

But this column is not meant to be about education funding, but about the state budget in general. At any rate, it is not designed for the faint of heart to delve into or for those who struggled in basic algebra – despite the best efforts of Mrs. Mapp.

In other words, before going any further, a reader warning should be sounded. This column is an honest effort to shed more light on the state budget.

Or to put another way – this column is duller than dirt or even duller than my normal column.

But by popular demand, here is an effort to explain the state budget in a concise – and perhaps – readable manner.

The aforementioned $6.26 billion state budget, consists primarily of about $5.7 billion in general fund revenue. General funds are derived from taxes – such as 6-percent sales tax on retail items, casino gambling tax, tax on insurance premiums, tax on cigarettes,, liquor and beer and tax on income. Remember, the House leadership tried this past session to phase out the income tax, which accounts for about 30 percent of the total general fund revenue.

At any rate, on top of general fund revenue is another $498 million that is derived from such items as an additional 1-cent sales tax approved by the Legislature in the early 1990s to enhance education and from an annual payment to the state from the tobacco companies as part of the lawsuit settlement in the 1990s.

That nearly $500 million combined with the $5.7 billion in general fund revenue represent the amount of money the Legislature and governor normally fight over each year. This money goes  toward education, health care, prisons, public safety and the like.

Education, kindergarten through the university level garners about $3.5 billion of that $6.26 billion total, based on the budget for the current fiscal year.

Medicaid receives more than $900 million. It is expected to pass $1 billion in state funds soon.

The rest goes to fund various items, ranging from public safety to the Governor’s Mansion to the Legislature.

But it does not fund the entire rest of the state.

For instance, transportation, ranging from the state highway system to local state aid roads, receives $1.2 billion from a separate stash of state revenue. A large chunk of that is from the 18.8-cent per gallon tax on motor fuels, which is dedicated to transportation needs.

The Secretary of State’s offices levies fees for many of its services, such as for companies being formed, and actually returns money to the general fund.

The bottom line is that all of these fees and special funds generate another roughly $5 billion.

In theory, the Legislature could do whatever it wants with those funds.

Legislators are rather proud of that fact.

And to prove that point, during tough budget times, the Legislature has dipped into those special funds and directed them from the agencies they normally fund to other state services.

So that is why it can be said education accounts for $2.54 billion of a $6.26 billion budget or $2.54 billion of an $11.8 billion budget.

And then there are federal funds that supplement the state budget – $8.9 billion of those coming from the U.S Congress with the consent of the president.

Suffice to say, without federal funds, the state and its budget would be in a world of hurt.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 946-9931 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyHarrison9.

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