BRADENTON, Fla. — For the first time in years, the Mississippi Legislature has ended its annual session without passing a bill authorizing new bonds for capital projects.
Legislators for the double-A rated state passed a balanced $5.5 billion general fund budget for fiscal 2013, according to Lieut. Gov. Tate Reeves, Republican president of the Senate.
The annual legislative session ended Thursday.
The general fund spending plan for next year, which takes effect July 1, represents a $22.4 million increase over the current year.
No bonds were authorized in the budget because the two chambers could not agree on a bond bill in conference.
The Senate proposed $123 million while the House proposed a $400 million plan.
Mississippi currently has $4.2 billion of outstanding long-term debt, and pays nearly $450 million in principal and interest annually.
Reeves said he believed additional debt would have hampered the state’s efforts to fund other needs.
“Though we could not agree on a bond bill, this decision will allow Mississippi to take a step toward controlling our debt,” he said. “The Legislature has relied on the state’s credit card far too long.”
“In the long term, this will help free up tax dollars to be spent on important areas like education and public safety,” Reeves added.
The Legislature had the task of forecasting budget needs in a fragile economy with predictions that revenues would not return to pre-recession levels until 2015 or 2016, he said.
Lawmakers agreed to set aside 2% of the general fund budget for Missippi’s rainy-day fund.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said lawmakers passed a number of “business-friendly” measures, and indicated that he viewed the proposed budget favorably.
“Overall, this is an acceptable budget, and I will be reviewing it further in the coming days,” Bryant said. “When I came into office in January, we faced some real financial challenges. We continue to face a struggling national economy, and the Legislature has heeded my call for prudence.”
The lack of a bond bill this year doesn’t mean the state won’t be in the market this year.
The state has $1.17 billion of authorized-but-unissued bonds, according to Laura Jackson, deputy state treasurer.
The bonding capacity was approved by the Legislature in previous years, though some portions of the amount will never be issued for various reasons, Jackson said.
The state is currently considering a refunding deal, and restructuring a variable-rate demand issue, she said, adding that a new-money bond sale is anticipated this fall.
Mississippi’s current total budget is $19 billion.