(Photo from Governor's 2024 EBR)
No budget recommendation for Fiscal Year 2025 was approved during the December meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The ramifications for lawmakers and the governor as the 2024 session nears are unclear.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee met on Wednesday for a meeting that was intended to adopt the budget recommendation for the state of Mississippi for Fiscal Year 2025. However, the committee did not approve a recommendation prior to adjourning.
At this time, it is unclear what ramifications, if any, this will have on the budget process, particularly as it relates to the Governor’s required Executive Budget Recommendation.
The December 6th meeting welcomed committee members from the House and Senate. Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann chairs the committee this year, a roll that flip flops between Senate and House leadership every other year. Governor Tate Reeves was no present at the day’s meeting.
Soon after opening the meeting, members voted to go into Executive Session.
Upon returning to Open Session, Lt. Governor Hosemann thanked members of the committee for their work and what he called a “fruitful discussion” in Executive Session. He also acknowledged Speaker Philip Gunn, as it was his last time to meet with the group. Gunn chose not to seek re-election in 2023.
“We would all be remiss if we did not acknowledge the first Republican Speaker of the House in 100 years,” said Lt. Governor Hosemann. “We are particularly honored, I think, to have the type of leadership and type of character and morality he has shown consistently in his leadership position for the state of Mississippi.”
The outgoing Speaker thanked the members for their work. He credited the positive fiscal position Mississippi has experienced to the group’s conservative budgeting practices over the last 12 years.
Shortly after the comments by Hosemann and Gunn, the committee adjourned without adopting a budget recommendation for FY 2025.
Hosemann concluded by telling members, “We’ll see you after Christmas. Enjoy your holidays.”
The November Catalyst
What is typically a routine set of meetings each fall stirred controversy in November after a lower-than-recommended FY 2025 budget estimate number was put forward by the committee outside of the number recommended by the Revenue Estimating Group.
State Economist Corey Miller presented the Revenue Estimating Group’s proposed total estimate for FY 2025 at $7,637,100,000. However, following an Executive Session, the motion was made to keep the FY 2025 number the same as the current FY 2024 estimate. That number is $7,523,800,000 – $113,300,000 less than the Revenue Estimating Group’s recommendation.
Governor Reeves joined the committee meeting where he expressed opposition to the lower number, saying he was caught off guard by the new figure. He expressed concerns that downgrading the estimate would limit the Legislature’s ability to provide continued tax relief to Mississippians.
“Arbitrarily lowering the number for no apparent reason hurts our ability to justify tax cuts,” said Governor Reeves in the November meeting. “I’m a very strong proponent of cutting taxes in this legislative session, regardless of what this number is.”
The committee went on to vote in favor of reduced estimate of $7.5 billion, with everyone consenting except State Representative Angela Cockerham and Governor Reeves.
The committee was expected to return in December to further discuss the budget estimate and approve a budget recommendation. However, that was not done on Wednesday.
Governor Reeves, as the state’s chief executive, must set his annual Executive Budget Recommendation (EBR) by the approved budget estimate, which is to be submitted to the Legislature by November 15th except in years where there is a new term set to begin, as in this case. Mississippi Code § 27-103-139 allows the Governor to submit the EBR no later than January 31st of a new term.
After the November vote, positions were split as to whether or not the Governor had to be in agreement with the estimate approved by the legislative committee. Reeves went so far as to reiterate his belief that the vote had no legal impact without his approval.
The same Mississippi Code Section referenced above, upon which the Governor’s Executive Budget Recommendation is based, sets forth that, “The general fund revenue estimate shall be the estimate jointly adopted by the Governor and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.”