Last week, most of our time was spent working on appropriation and revenue bills. It appears that the state’s budget will be about $6 billion for Fiscal Year 2016, which begins July 1.
The Appropriation Committee produces measures that dictate how moneys will be allocated throughout state government. The Ways and Means Committee crafts vehicles to fund the government.
I was proud to support House Bill 33 out of the Ways and Means Committee, which provides a tax incentive for employers who hire honorably discharged veterans. We have all heard sad stories of members of our armed forces who have returned to find that there are too few jobs available. In the House, we believe that we should do what we can to help these individuals who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms here at home. The bill passed 118-0.
Another important measure to come out of the Ways and Means Committee is House Bill 38, offering our small cities and counties grants of up to $250,000 through the Mississippi Development Authority. After the Great Recession, many rural governments were unable to make needed upgrades and repairs, and we hope this bill will offer them an opportunity to do so.
Municipalities with fewer than 10,000 residents and counties with fewer than 30,000 are eligible to apply.
We are blessed to live in a significant historic area of the South. Within a short drive, there are many architecturally important structures and historic properties over 150 years old and that deserve to be conserved and preserved.
House Bill 155 increases the historic property income tax credit from $60,000 to $100,000 to those who are willing to do the hard work of preserving and conserving our historic properties. The bill also extends the time taxpayers may be eligible to receive it through 2030. I strongly supported this measure.
We also approved several appropriations bills, including agency funding.
During the presentation of the first Special Funds bill, we approved an amendment authorizing pay raises for state agency employees who have not had a pay increase since 2011 The amendment was applied to all subsequent agency budget bills. The amendment allows agencies to work within their budgets to offer employees raises up to five percent, and does not appropriate additional funding for the program. It is hoped that agency heads will take advantage of this flexibility in their appropriation bills to prioritize offering their hard working employees with financial help.
We voted unanimously to approve House Bill 1536, the budget for the Mississippi Department of Education. Included in the approved $2.5 billion budget is $106 million more for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). The MAEP money covers the second year of the teacher pay raise and recently enacted assistant teacher raise, along with about $50 million going toward school districts. I should note that this measure, although helpful, still falls short of fully funding our schools through the mandated MAEP. While this bill helps, I will continue to do what I can to ensure full funding of our schools.
We have a great public library system here in Corinth, and we are home to the Northeast Regional Library system. I was proud to vote for House Bill 1538, which provides the Mississippi Library Commission with an additional $1.3 million to go toward improving fiber optics and technology.
Our modern society almost requires that we have access to high speed internet. Many of our rural neighbors do not have this access and must rely on the local library to stay in touch through the internet. We believe that this additional appropriation will help our local libraries to offer this vital service to our citizens.
It was a great day in the House chamber when Bro. Kenny Digby, director of the Alcorn Baptist Association, opened the House in Prayer on February 19. I was also honored to attend the Fire Academy graduation when four firefighters from the Corinth Fire Department received their certificates of graduation. We are certainly blessed to have such a fine group of fire fighters willing to serve.
Please feel free to contact me on these or any other measures before the Legislature. Please call me at (662) 287-1620, email email@example.com, message me on FaceBook at Nicholas Ryan Bain or follow me on Twitter @StateRepBain.