Miss. treasurer: Don’t tap state’s rainy day fund

Published 12:25 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mississippi Treasurer Tate Reeves says that as lawmakers prepare for their final weeks of budget work, they should avoid taking cash out of the state’s financial reserves.

“I would submit to you today that we should spend no money from our rainy day fund in the (fiscal year) 2010 budget to prop up that budget,” Reeves said Monday during a luncheon sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government.

Reeves, a Republican in his second term, said the federal stimulus package is bringing a significant amount of money to Mississippi, and that should eliminate any need for lawmakers to tap into the $362.6 million in the state’s financial reserves.

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Mississippi is slated to receive about $2.8 billion over more than two years from the stimulus plan. Officials are evaluating how much will be available for the coming year. Legislators have a March 27 deadline to agree on a budget for fiscal 2010, which begins July 1.

The state budget is about $5 billion during the current year, and lawmakers are counting on a small amount of growth. But those assumptions were set months ago, before the economy started to slide dramatically.

Reeves said he believes top lawmakers should meet again and set more modest expectations for the amount of revenue that might be available.

“Our revenue numbers are more likely to get worse before they get better,” Reeves said.

He said Mississippi’s corporate sales tax collections have fallen significantly short of expectations the past several months.

He said the state’s total revenues — including collections of sales taxes and income taxes — are virtually the same this year as last year. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has cut millions of dollars during the first several months of the current fiscal year because the budget was written based on the assumption that the economy would grow rather than remain stagnant and that revenues would increase.

Reeves said lawmakers should not increase any taxes this year, including the cigarette tax. He also said he agrees with Barbour’s decision to refuse a portion of unemployment stimulus funds — about $56 million — because the state would be required to expand benefits to part-time workers.

“I commend the governor on doing what I believe is fiscally prudent,” Reeves said.

Reeves also used his press speech Monday to discuss issues that aren’t directly related to his job as treasurer. He said Mississippi needs a law that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls. Supporters say an ID requirement would head off voter fraud. Opponents equate a voter ID mandate to the long-outlawed poll tax and say it could be used to intimidate older black voters who were once subject to Jim Crow laws.

Reeves would not reveal his political plans for 2011, although he had an answer prepared in anticipation of a question. Barbour is term-limited and can’t run for governor again, and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to run for governor. There has been widespread speculation that Reeves might run for higher office.

“I believe, for me, it would be a disservice to the voters of Mississippi for me to be focusing on anything other than what my job is currently,” Reeves said.