This week, members of the House turned their focus toward budget matters, with both the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees being very active. The Appropriations committee deals with spending the state’s money and is charged with designing the FY 2015 State Budget, which begins July 1. The Ways and Means Committee focuses on sources of state revenue. This committee crafts bills used as vehicles to fund the government. Early projections suggest the budget for FY2015 will be close to $5.9 billion.
Critical Physician Incentive Act of 2014
House Bill 1562 exempts income tax on certain physicians, nurses and physician assistants practicing in critical physician shortage areas. Twenty-two counties in Mississippi qualify as shortage areas. The goal of the bill is to have doctors and nurses in all counties. Many questions were raised concerning net versus gross income and exemptions being limited to those with new licenses. However, members overwhelmingly voted to keep the bill alive. HB1562 passed by a vote of 116-3. I voted for the bill.
On the House floor Wednesday and Thursday, House members first addressed Special Funds Appropriations bills and then moved to tackle General Funds Appropriations bills. The amounts appropriated to each agency were based on agency needs instead of being determined by what the agency already had in its coffers. The deadline to address these bills is February 26 at midnight.
Repeatedly, House members offered an amendment to the majority of the agencies’ budgets which would give the employees of those agencies a pay raise. Each time a pay raise amendment was brought forward, it was defeated at the request of the Appropriations Chairman, who stated the proposed budget could not support the proposed raise without irresponsibly using non-recurring, “one time” money.
House members in support of the amendments argued the state could afford the raises by reducing the debt service budget, necessary to pay the state’s bonded indebtedness. In other words, some House members wanted to use money the State of Mississippi is required to pay its debts with to fund the pay raises. Obviously, that was and is not a serious plan to fund a state employee pay raise. By analogy, that would be like funding the purchase of a new car by using the money set aside to pay for your mortgage.
The Constitution requires the State of Mississippi to pay its debt and balance the budget. Some legislators would choose to fund a state employee pay raise with a smoke and mirror approach. I voted against the pay raise amendments because sound accounting principals should fund pay raises instead of creative accounting which does not allow the State of Mississippi to pay its debt. I suspect these amendments were offered in part to obtain roll call votes to use against Republicans in the upcoming election cycle. A plan to fund a state employee pay raise, without political motivation, would not allow the State of Mississippi to default on its debt. I would like to give our state employees a raise that would make a difference in their take home pay. However, I could not vote for a pay raise if it required the State to default on its debt obligation, which in turn would require drastic cuts to existing budgets. All of the pay raise amendments failed including a pay raise for the Legislature. The votes were cast mainly along party lines.
I am hopeful that the House can develop a plan to fund a state employee pay raise in the near future. I voted for an amendment that was offered to the budget of the Department of Education requiring a plan to be developed that would provide a $1,000 pay raise to all state employees. I am cautiously optimistic that if state revenues continue to grow that a pay raise may be available for all state employees. I encourage all state employees to contact me if they have any questions or concerns.
I would like to thank the people of District 35 for allowing me the opportunity to serve. If you have any questions or need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time. You can contact me at the Capitol at P. O. Box 1018, Jackson, Mississippi 39215 or call (601) 359-3339. You may also email me at email@example.com.