Well, we've hit the halfway point...maybe...hopefully. After a dizzying 3-4 weeks taking up House bills in committee, and then debating them on the floor, this week signals a point when everything slows down. The Appropriations Committee and Ways & Means Committee start taking up appropriation and revenue bills. It's the first semblance of a budget for fiscal year 2011, which will begin July 1 of this year. One misconception I had before running was that the Mississippi Legislature passed a budget in one fail swoop via one gigantic bill. However, what I discovered is that every agency, no matter how small, has an individual bill with its own appropriation.
So K-12 Education via MAEP- one bill. The Gaming Commission- one bill. The Board of Pharmacy- one bill. And they all have to be voted on individually, both in committee and on the House floor. Once the House passes all of its appropriation bills, those bills head to the Senate, where many of them will be amended, and the final details and amounts will be hashed out in conference on the last week of session.
Since the infamous Rules Change back when Buddie Newman was Speaker, generally any appointment to one of the two money committees (Appropriations and Ways & Means) comes only through seniority. Occasionally, you'll have a second term legislator get one of the coveted "wild card" appointments from the House Speaker (an example of this is Ways & Means Vice Chairman David Norquist; or Appropriations Vice Chairman Preston Sullivan).
So if you're like any in our freshman class and much of the House membership, you really can't get a grasp on the budget by waiting to vote on its individual pieces when they come to floor. Much learning comes from attending Appropriations Committee meetings, by sitting around the room on the wall with the rest of the agency heads, budget staff, lobbyists and press.
Today, Appropriations Committee subcommittee chairman presented their proposed appropriations for each agency. Information comes in these really thick printed packets, showing what the agency received last year, what the Legislative Budget Recommendation (LBR) proposed for this year and what the House "position" will be (what we're proposing). This allows legislators to compare numbers with previous years and what was previously "agreed" upon via LBR.
So work has begun on the FY 2011 budget. All appropriations and revenue bills must be passed out of their house of origin by Wednesday, Feb. 24.