Starkville Daily News - - AROUND TOWN -

"Truth and In­tegrity in State Bud­get­ing," which eval­u­ates all states' bud­get prac­tices for fis­cal years 2015 through 2017.

Like most states, Mis­sis­sippi has a fis­cal year that runs from July through June. So, the pe­riod cov­ered by the re­port for Mis­sis­sippi is July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2017.

The re­port ex­am­ines how states fore­cast the amount of money they will have avail­able to spend. It looks at how states write their bud­gets, in­clud­ing whether they use re­cur­ring sources of money rather than sources that are "one-time in­fu­sions" of cash.

The re­port also looks at obli­ga­tions such as gov­ern­ment pen­sions and at whether states main­tain fi­nan­cial re­serves, com­monly known as rainy day funds. States are also graded on trans­parency.

"Faced with con­sti­tu­tional, statutory, or cus­tom­ary re­quire­ments for an­nu­ally bal­anced bud­gets, a large num­ber of states have been forced to re­duce or re­al­lo­cate spend­ing," the re­port says. "The po­ten­tial to de­fer or ob­fus­cate in mak­ing these ad­just­ments is very real. That is why the need for com­pre­hen­sive and ac­cu­rate ac­count­ing and trans­par­ent re­port­ing of the fi­nan­cial po­si­tions of in­di­vid­ual states is even more com­pelling."

Each state re­ceives a re­port card, with A as the high­est grade and F the low­est.

Mis­sis­sippi re­ceived mostly B's for its three-year av­er­ages. It was among the 21 states re­ceiv­ing a three-year av­er­age of an A for the cat­e­gory of bud­get ma­neu­vers.

The re­port says ma­neu­vers can in­clude bal­anc­ing the bud­get by us­ing one-time sources of rev­enue and by tapping into spe­cial funds to pad the bud­get's gen­eral fund. The gen­eral fund cov­ers most bigticket ex­penses, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion.

Spe­cial funds can come from fees peo­ple pay that are sup­posed to fund spe­cific ser­vices or agen­cies.

Mis­sis­sippi re­ceived three­year av­er­age of C for bud­get fore­cast­ing, with a C for 2015 and a D for both 2016 and 2017. The re­port says Mis­sis­sippi did not fol­low best prac­tices for mak­ing mul­ti­year fore­casts of ei­ther how much money the state would col­lect or how much money it would spend.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant was forced to make mul­ti­ple rounds of midyear bud­get cuts dur­ing fis­cal 2016 and fis­cal 2017 be­cause tax col­lec­tions fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions. State econ­o­mist Dar­rin Webb re­cently told law­mak­ers that Mis­sis­sippi is con­tin­u­ing to re­cover slowly from the Great Re­ces­sion, and the state's growth lags sig­nif­i­cantly be­hind that of the na­tional econ­omy.

The Joint Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Com­mit­tee re­cently set an es­ti­mate that Mis­sis­sippi will have slightly less money to spend dur­ing fis­cal 2019, which starts next July 1, than it has dur­ing the cur­rent year. The num­ber was based on a rec­om­men­da­tion from Webb and four other fi­nan­cial ex­perts.

The Vol­cker Al­liance re­port notes that many states are stretched by big ex­penses for Med­i­caid and pub­lic em­ployee pen­sions. Mis­sis­sippi is among them.

"The fis­cal pres­sure is not likely to dis­ap­pear any­time soon," the re­port says. "The Vol­cker Al­liance's mis­sion in grad­ing states is to high­light those with prac­tices that should be fol­lowed nationwide as much as it is to crit­i­cize those that fall short. The sheer mag­ni­tude of state and lo­cal spend­ing — and the fact that much of the lo­cal por­tion comes from state bud­get ap­pro­pri­a­tion — makes it es­sen­tial that such ex­pen­di­tures are as trans­par­ent as pos­si­ble, funded re­spon­si­bly, and not left for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to shoul­der."

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