The Mississippi legislature gaveled out of session for at least two weeks and probably more on Wednesday, with much of its business left unfinished. 

The legislature, according to the state constitution, has an August 30 deadline to put together a new budget before the appropriations for fiscal year 2020 are exhausted. The fiscal year ends on June 30.

According to the state constitution and legislative rules, the only requirements on the session are that the state capitol be open to the public and that a session can last up to 125 day (post-election years) and 90 days in other years, unless extended by a resolution approved by both chambers. The governor also has the power to call a special session and set a limited agenda for that session. 

Before the legislature left the capitol, there were no appropriations bills filed for state agencies, which is the final step in the budgetary process. This isn’t unusual considering that the session’s adjournment for sine die (which means with no appointed date for resumption) was still a month and a half away.

One critical obligation is a budget or, in the least, a continuing resolution that allows funding to critical agencies to continue at what would likely be the same level as last year’s appropriations. In section 64 of the state constitution, appropriations run out two months after the end of the fiscal year. Normally, appropriations bills take effect on July 1 and supersede the previous appropriation before the deadline.

If the legislature decides to just hold appropriations at this year’s level, that would add up to $5.75 billion in general fund spending. Of course, we don’t know the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on state revenues. 

The way the budgetary process works in Mississippi is that agencies provide the Legislative Budget Office with their funding requests in August. The LBO, which is composed of members from both chambers, conducts hearings in September to hear from agency heads on their budgetary needs. The LBO then drafts a budget in November that provides a blueprint for the appropriations bills. The governor’s staff also drafts a budget during the same time that gives the legislature a sense of their budgetary priorities.

The appropriations bills are the primary task for legislators in the final month, along with finishing up work on general bills. The final weeks of the session are spent in conference committees as the two chambers attempt to compromise on appropriation and general bills.

If legislators are able to return to the capitol by April 1, the date for them to adjourn sine die under House Concurrent Resolution 65 would be June 9. If the legislature hasn’t returned, completed its business, and adjourned sine die by June 9, the final day of the session could be pushed back to July 9.