State departments appeared before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Monday in Jackson to make their budget requests for the Fiscal Year 2020.

Public Employees’ Retirement System:

Public Employees’ Retirement System, PERS, asked for $19.6 million, a change of just over $45k. PERS currently represents 324,000 public employees and according to new director, Ray Higgins, the most recent policy requires a rate increase.

Lawmakers questioned the department’s ability to be self-sustaining when covering liability costs and whether or not they could refrain from requesting more funds that come directly from the tax payer. Speaker Gunn said lawmakers were under the impression only a year ago that PERS was in a position where more money would not be requested.

Sen. Willie Simmons offered an idea to be investigated; would PERS allow retired teachers to return to the classroom if they so desire, without taking a hit on their retirement? He said this could help solve the teacher crisis the state is currently facing. Higgins said he would be happy to look into the possibility.

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Mississippi Department of Corrections:

Probably the most eventful presentation of the day, due to a few extra guests.

Minutes before Commissioner Hall and her team took their seats, protesters were escorted into the room. They took a space in the far back right and held up a sign insinuating that the department had “killed” 16 inmates in the month of August. MDOC has been under fire for the deaths over the last few weeks.

The protesters began yelling accusations at the Commissioner and MDOC staff. Speaker Gunn asked them several times to please refrain from speaking at that time or they would be escorted out of the room. Shortly after, they were asked to leave, but not without a few last words.

Commissioner Hall picked up where she left off with three main asks, increased salaries for employees of around $13.94 million, funds for facility repairs throughout all locations, and a major renovation of MSP Unit 29 at a cost of roughly $22.3 million.

Legislators discussed several options of how to make a renovation happen and where inmates would be placed in the meantime. They also inquired as to whether or not it would be more cost effect to just build a brand new facility, Hall did not have those numbers at this time.

Department of Education:

Dr. Carey Wright outlined the State Board of Education’s goals for the next five years.

  1. All students show growth in all assessed areas.
  2. Every student graduated from High School, prepared for college and career.
  3. Every child has access to high-quality early childhood program
  4. Every school has effective teachers and leaders
  5. Every community uses a world-class data system to improve student outcomes
  6. Every school and district is rated “C” or higher.

MDE requested the full funding of MAEP which is $253.49 million and $11.48 million along with that, for various programs and projects. Wright stressed the need for more literacy coaches and a need to expand early childhood education collaborates.

In the last year, overall statewide results showed gains in English and Language Arts as well as Math for three years in a row. Advanced Placement grew in all three major categories of placement and performance, and AP exam participation increases 16.6 percent for African-American students. The states graduation rate has also reached an all-time place of 83 percent and is currently closing in on the national rate of 84.0 percent.

Mississippi Department of Public Safety

Commissioner Marshall Fisher, with the Department of Public Safety, made 3 requests on the departments behalf. One for a new trooper class, they requested $3.28 million, to annualize the previous trooper class salaries they asked for $4.4 million and for other departmental needs they made an ask of $40.40 million.

The Department budget request encompasses long standing needs as well as requests for new pins in multiple departments such as radio operators, special projects officer, and an internal auditor. Not to mention salary increases for MBN officers and medical examiners. Currently salaries under DPS are roughly $10,000 lower than surrounding states (starting at $32,000).

While salary increases given by Legislature last year were helpful, Fisher said the work load has continued to increase and the adjustment would be helpful in recruiting efforts.

Mississippi Division of Medicaid:

Arguably the most painless presentation of the day, with a request of $954 million with no deficit request for FY 2019. The FY 2018 deficit request was at $47,278,738 with an operating budget of $983 million.

Director Drew Snyder said he believes Medicaid is headed in the right direction and is aiming to run the agency in a way that utilizes it’s dollars to the best of it’s ability, avoiding waste. Medicaid currently serves 678,243 Medicaid beneficiaries, 45,869 CHIP beneficiaries, leading to a total enrollment of 724,139. Mississippi currently utilizes the highest federal match rate at 76.63%.

Child Protective Services:

Justice Jess Dickinson lead the presentation as he explained the current state of CPS. He informed lawmakers that the Federal government had held the department in contempt of court due to their inability to comply with the required number of case workers across the state.

Dickinson said, it is still unclear how that will effect the department but that they did meet all other metrics required of them.

CPS requested $15 million for new software information systems and another $22.75 million for vacant pins, grants and software. A new movement of the Federal Government is to provide direction for families before resorting to removing children from a home. Dickinson said they have determined that removal should not be first priority, therefore they are changing the way in which they fund child welfare.

Dickenson said a special thank you to the photographers and videographers who donated their time to photograph and film children within the foster care system who are in need of adoption, in order to bring awareness to the need.