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Lawmakers set final budget details

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi schools, universities, mental health programs and prisons will receive slightly more money in the coming year, under a $5.5 billion budget that leading lawmakers finished writing Saturday.

State employees won’t be receiving across-the-board pay raises during fiscal 2014, which begins July 1. But workers won’t have to pay any extra money toward their own pensions because the state is pumping more money into the Public Employees Retirement System.

There are more than 100 budget bills, and each must be approved by a majority of the House and Senate. There are separate bond bills, which would authorize the state to borrow about $200 million to pay for a wide range of projects.

Both chambers return to the Capitol on Sunday, and they’re expected to meet a Monday deadline to send the budget and bond bills to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the $200 million bond package includes about $96 million to be divided among the eight universities, including the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. The package also has about $25 million for community colleges and smaller amounts for railroad and highway projects, plus some money for Mississippi Development Authority, the state agency that promotes job creation.

Lawmakers are taking away permission for the state to issue about $230 million bonds for old projects that never came to fruition. Plus, the state will pay off another $240 million in existing bond debt. Taken together, those actions mean Mississippi’s long-term debt level will decrease rather than rise.

“It’s certainly a reasonable, rational, conservative bond bill,” Fillingane said Saturday.

The top budget writers are the Appropriations Committee chairmen, Herb Frierson of Poplarville from the House and Eugene “Buck” Clarke of Hollandale from the Senate.

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