By The Clarion-Ledger
The Picayune Item
Budget hearings are nothing more than the opening salvo in a protracted negotiation over how to carve up state funds for the next year, and little in this year’s hearings has stood out from years prior.
But what did stand out was how ill-prepared the representatives from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety were when they appeared before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee seeking a nearly 50 percent increase in spending.
DPS has been at the center of its share of budget debates over the past couple of years. While most lawmakers generally stand proud beside the men and women who protect our highways, a clear lack of confidence in the department’s leadership continues to show from lawmakers.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves infamously blocked a bond bill two years ago that, in part, would have allowed for the purchase of new vehicles department leaders said were vital to replace an aging fleet.
Last year, lawmakers tried to rectify the problem by allocating nearly $2 million for vehicles, but DPS purchased just a handful of cars, none of which went to Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol troopers. Instead, they went to the Department of Public Safety’s investigative unit.
The Legislature also appropriated $3 million this year to cover what the department said was a budget shortfall. Instead, the money went to meet payroll needs, a decision that angered many lawmakers.
When questioned about these things, Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz provided less-than-satisfying answers.
He and his staff were unable to answer simple questions about how they came up with the numbers for next year’s budget, which includes additional money for 69 cars, a new trooper school to hire 60 troopers and numerous technological and facilities upgrades.
Both Reeves and House Speaker Phillip Gunn, R-Clinton, expressed their frustration. ...
DPS officials should spend the next three months performing a thorough audit and evaluation of department operations and finances. Then they should head to the Capitol in January with budget requests that are more realistic and supported by quantifiable data.