Mississippi tax collections continued growing strongly in the just-concluded budget year, posting another year of 5 percent growth and ensuring that money will be available to help improve local roads and bridges.
State Department of Revenue figures show general fund tax receipts grew to a record $5.25 billion in the 2014 budget year, which ended Monday.
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Lawmakers raised expectations in March, but revenue kept growing and ended up at least $32 million above the revised number.
That extra money means Mississippi will be able grant $32 million in aid for local roads and bridges that House members fought for on the 2014 session's closing night. Upset about $40 million in special projects targeted to home areas of Senate leaders, the House initially balked at approving a transportation budget. In the end, the House and Senate agreed to spend more to help local roads and bridges if tax collections allowed.
"We'll do so much good with this," House Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said Tuesday.
He said he hoped it would build support for further increases in transportation spending: "Maybe they'll understand how critical the need is in the state."
General fund revenue is now 20 percent higher than in fiscal 2010, when receipts touched a low of $4.37 billion after a two-year slide during the recession.
Mississippi's government spends much more than $5 billion a year, plus billions in federal aid and taxes and fees earmarked to particular agencies. In the 2015 budget year, which started Tuesday, the state plans to spend $20 billion from all sources, including $8.9 billion in federal money and $5 billion in other state revenue.
Both House and Senate leaders crowed that the 2015 budget spends very little non-recurring revenue on recurring expenses.
"State government is finally doing what taxpayers do every day in their homes and businesses: spending what it takes in, prioritizing needs and saving money for a rainy day," Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement.
The strong budget year also filled Mississippi's rainy day fund to its $409 million legal limit.
Lawmakers put an additional $72 million into the Mississippi Adequate Education Program — the state's public school funding formula — in the 2014 session, but most money went to cover a pay raise for teachers. The formula remained $257 million short of full funding.
House Appropriations Committee Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said some new revenue will be needed next year to cover the second year of the teacher pay increase, as well as other commitments. But if revenue again rises, lawmakers could have a substantial amount to spend or grant tax cuts during an election year.
"If we have 4 or 5 percent, we'll be able to do some things," Frierson said Tuesday. "We'll find out how people really feel about MAEP."
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