|November 12, 2009||Proposal to shorten session may not save money||4 comments|
|October 20, 2009||Waller ran once as Democrat||3 comments|
|September 29, 2009||K-12, community colleges following state law||2 comments|
|September 18, 2009||Education cuts big whammy for state||6 comments|
|September 09, 2009||Mississippi's revenue slump now at year||7 comments|
|September 02, 2009||Sales tax holiday just showing up in state tax collections||no comments|
|August 26, 2009||Farm Bureau waiting on voter ID initiative effort||no comments|
|August 03, 2009||Barbour sounds like national candidate||1 comments|
|July 29, 2009||lieutenant governor doesn't mention hospital tax at fair||4 comments|
|July 28, 2009||Neshoba Fair political speakings attendees not uninformed||no comments|
JACKSON – Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is advocating shortening the upcoming 2010 90-day session to 60 days as a way to save taxpayer money.
If legislators can get their work done in 60 days, that is great. But if they can’t, and they end up coming back in special session, that actually costs more money. In regular session, legislators get paid a set amount of money -- $10,000, plus expenses. They get the $10,000 whether the regular session is 60 days, 90 days or more. In special session, they receive expenses, plus an extra $75-per-day.
In terms of being fiscally conservative, it makes more sense to get all the work done in regular session – even if it takes longer – than it does to come back in a special session and get the extra $75 per day. By the way, that extra $75 per day for 174 members, plus the lieutenant governor, adds up to $13,125 per day, not counting other benefits, such as retirement benefits paid by the state on the salary.
JACKSON -- Last week I wrote a column about the strengths of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. as a gubernatorial candidate.
I did not say whether he was running. I only said that it was rumored he might run. I stand by my analysis that he would be a strong general election candidate and that it made more sense on many levels for him to run as a Democrat.
But I mistakenly said he had never run in a partisan election so it is not clear whether he would run as a Republican or Democrat. Since then I have learned that a young Waller ran unsuccessfully for chancery judge in 1983 as a Democrat. Since then judicial elections have become non-partisan.
JACKSON -- A few eyebrows were raised last week by the size of the budget requests made to legislative leaders by the community colleges and kindergarten through 12h grade education.
Of course, everyone knows state tax collections are down and the likelihood exists of budget cuts so the requests for additional funds made by education and by numerous other state agencies might be nothing more than pie-in-the-sky dreams. The requests were made during hearings of the Legislative Budget Committee.
But a bulk of the requested increase by the Mississippi Board of Education and by the state's 15 community colleges was predicated by state law. State law requires the Board of Education to request the amount of money needed to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program that provides most of the basics of operating local school districts.
And state law mandates that within a three-year period the funding per student for the community colleges will be at a mid-level between what is spent on kindergarten through 12th grade students and what is spent per student at the state's four regional colleges.
The amount needed to fully fund the Adequate Education Program is based on a formula that is spelled out in state law. Before people start claiming the state Board of Education "cooks the books" in calculating funding for Adequate Education, it should be pointed out that now an independent accounting firm is hired to calculate the level of funding. Last year the difference between what the accounting firm determined was full funding of the Adequate Education Program as determined by the formula and what the state Board deemed was full funding was a whopping $4.
That's right $4 in a $2-billion budget
Now I'm not a rocket scientist, but it seems that the state could save the $60,000 or so paid to the accounting firm and let the state Board of Education do the Adequate Education Program calculation along with input from the office of state Auditor Stacey Pickering.
JACKSON -- A great deal of focus is being placed on the issue of how to improve chronically low performing school districts. Gov. Haley Barbour held a summit on the issue recently.
Politicians as diverse as the Republican Barbour and Democratic President Barack Obama agree the schools must be improved for the state and country to progress.
In Mississippi, this past year the Legislature passed and Barbour signed the landmark Children First Act that gives the state more authority to take over low performing districts.
No doubt, the issue of children not learning is as serious as any issue in the country.
In Mississippi, leaders are putting in place tough new accountability standards to try to deal with the issue. But one thing continues to be lacking -- funding.
Mississippi is putting new standards on teachers and administrators. Standards that should be met.
By the same token, leaders continue to not fully fund the Adequate Education Program. In other words leaders are not providing the amount of money that is by law deemed needed to provide an adequate education.
Mississippi, like the rest of the nation, faces budget woes because of declining revenue collections. But in Mississippi, which is already behind most of the rest of the nation in education funding and has further to go to improve its schools, education cuts can be an especially difficult whammy.
Education was cut last year and this year, and it is not likely to be fully funded next year.
JACKSON -- For 12 consecutive months, Mississippi tax collections have come in below the official estimate.
Th official estimate is the amount of money used to construct the state budget. Only two months into the current fiscal year, Gov. Haley Barbour made budget cuts last week because revenue collections were not meeting the official estimate.
Both the governor and legislative leaders, including Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Speaker Billy McCoy, have a say in establishing that official estimate. But ultimately, the decision on what that estimate is rests with Bryant, McCoy and the legislative leaders, such as Appropriations committees chairs Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, in the Senate and Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, in the House.
It should be pointed out that at some point in the process the legislative leaders can act without the consent of the governor in adopting an official estimate -- at least a revised official estimate -- but Barbour has never voiced opposition to the estimate the legislators have approved.
By the same token, the legislative leaders always have accepted the official estimate recommended by the state's financial experts, who are Treasurer Tate Reeves, Tax Commission Chair Ed Morgan, state Economist Phil Pepper, state Fiscal Officer Kevin Upchurch and Legislative Budget Committee staff member Robert Sumrall.
But then again, state financial experts across the country have been surprised by the severity of the slowdown in tax collections.
JACKSON -- Tax Commission officials say it may be some time before the impact of the sales tax holiday on state tax collections is know.
The Legislature created the sales tax holiday during the 2009 session. For those who don't know, thanks to the sales tax holiday, on the last day of July and first day of August, all clothing and shoe purchases of less than $100 per item were exempt from the 7 percent sales tax.
What is tricky is that sales tax collections lag a month behind. The sales tax collected in July is reflected in the August state revenue collections report that was released Tuesday.
In other words, the first day of the sales tax holiday -- July 31 -- was reported on the state tax collections for August. The second day of the sales tax holiday -- Aug.1 -- will be reflected in the September tax collections, which will be released in early October.
July's state tax collections were dismal -- down more than 11 percent. August's tax collections were much better than those of July. Some have questioned whether the sals tax holiday was at least partially responsible for the poor tax collections in July. But July's tax collections did not include the sales tax holiday. July's overall state tax collections include sales taxes paid to retailers in June. But some have speculated that retail sales, and thus sales tax, might have been way down in June because people were putting off purchases to July and August to take advantage of the sales tax holiday.
A little confusing? I will say.
JACKSON -- Gov. Haley Barbour's speech at the historic Neshoba County Fair Thursday sounded like that of a politician running for president in 2012.
He focused more on national politics than state politics, though, in fairness, he did try to connect what is happening nationally to how he believes it will affect Mississippi.
He blasted President Barack Obama and "the liberal Democrat Congress" for overspending, saying their health care program and energy program would be bad for America.
Barbour has some real political baggage that would impede his run for national office. But he is being mentioned more and more as a likely candidate in 2012.
Whether he will be remains to be seen. But it is obvious Barbour, highly respected from his successful stint in the 1990s as chair of the Republican National Committee, is and will continue to be a much-listened-to voice in Republican circles on the national level.
PHILADELPHIA -- Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant pointed out correctly at the political speakings at Wednesday's Neshoba County Fair that he, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and others slowed the budget negotiations to ensure that $60 million was set aside to be used in 2010 or beyond.
That is true. But the lieutenant governor did not point out that he and Nunnelee also slowed the budget negotiations to ensure that the tax on hospitals was increased.
By coincidence, the tax on hospitals was increased $60 million. Legislators could have just as easily not transferred $60 million to future budget years and used that money this year in lieu of a hospital tax increase.
If the additional $60 million was needed in future years, legislators could have increased the hospital tax then.
That would be another option. But Bryant, Nunnelee and Gov. Haley Barbour were intent on increasing the tax on hospitals now.
JACKSON -- Few people who attend the annual Neshoba County Fair political speakings these days fall into the category of the uninformed voter looking to be educated.
For the most part, people who attend the political speakings are:
* Supporters of a candidate or political party looking to provide vocal support.
* A lobbyist or other type of worker who depends on government actions for his or her pay.
* Members of the media.
* People at the historic fair for other purposes, such as the horse racing, concerts or midway rides, either get lost and end up at the Founders' Square Pavilion during the speakings or have a healthy curiosity and decide to wander over for a few minutes.
This will be a quiet year at the fair with statewide elections still two years away. Still, all the statewide elected officials are scheduled to speak either Wednesday or Thursday. Some news might be made.
A disturbing trend in recent years has been audience members heckling candidates they do not support. I'm all for free speech, but people come to hear the candidates not members of the audience. Hopefully fair officials will start to get that conduct under control.
It's one thing to give vocal support to your candidate. It is another to try to deprive your candidate's opponent from being heard.