Jim Hood swats at Mississippi GOP budget writers

Published 6:48 am Friday, July 8, 2016

By The Associated Press

Mississippi’s budget is a mess because the Republican-led Legislature has been cutting taxes to help potential campaign donors, Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday.

Hood also said only a few senators and representatives have been allowed to take part in the budget-writing process, leaving most lawmakers from both parties with little influence over how public money is spent.

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“The whole problem with this budget issue has been a miscalculation by trying to grant these huge corporate tax cuts, which are catering to those who can make huge campaign contributions, just be frank about it. We’ve got to change direction,” Hood said during a forum sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.

A top budget writer said in an interview later Thursday that Hood’s remarks are off-base.

“The main corporate tax cut will be the franchise tax cut, which doesn’t even come into play for another year and a half,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Eugene “Buck” Clarke, R-Hollandale.

Clarke said he didn’t have information Thursday about how two other tax reductions approved in recent years have affected revenue. Mississippi is phasing out the inventory tax, and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant also signed a law in 2014 that makes it harder for the state to rule that multistate corporations are paying too little in state taxes.

The current state budget year started July 1, and legislators approved the state’s $6.4 billion spending plan during a session that ended in April. The new budget includes structural changes that have caused confusion for some agency directors, and Hood’s office has been fielding requests for legal opinions about those changes.

Special funds, which are fees collected for specific programs, are being swept into the general state budget, leaving uncertainty about whether some programs will continue.

Legislators also voted to stop the practice of some agencies paying others for things such as rent and technology services. But, that raised questions about losing federal money.

Hood said he hopes the state can “hobble through” until the regular legislative session starts in January.

“Why did they rush this thing through?” Hood said. “It’s not that we’re upset that they’re changing the way we do things. It’s just that you’ve got to study this stuff.”

Clarke proposed the changes and said they were intended to make the budget simpler and more transparent. He said Thursday that he’s confident state agencies will make the changes work for at least the first half of the budget year, and legislators can discuss whether changes are needed, starting in January.

Clarke also said he will ask the Legislative Budget Office to prepare detailed documents that compare the new budget to the budget for the year that just ended.

“We need a document that shows all those changes,” Clarke said.