Barbour: Budget to include 'dramatic' restructuring

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour said he was not ready to answer when asked Tuesday about the future of Mississippi University for Women.
Barbour and his staff are currently compiling his budget recommendation, which is scheduled to be released Monday.
During a conference call Tuesday from Iraq where he is visiting Mississippi National Guard troops on active duty there, he repeated the mantra that because of sluggish tax collections during the economic downturn, his budget recommendation “will be anything but business as usual.”
There has been speculation that Barbour might recommend the merger of some universities and perhaps recommend school district consolidation as part of his budget proposal.
Often when university merger or closure is discussed, much of the focus is on MUW in Columbus and Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena, the two smallest of the state’s eight public universities.
When asked about MUW on Tuesday, Barbour said, “There are a number of things in the working document not finalized. Some are not finalized because we are trying to get as good a handle as possible on savings.”
Barbour said the recommendations will be based on the amount of savings that can be achieved. He added that some of the savings he proposes in the budget recommendation will not take effect for two years.
But he predicted the state’s financial situation still will be as dire in two years.
Mississippi is currently in a midst of one of the worst downturns in state tax collections in the state’s history.
Barbour said his budget recommendation “will include some dramatic ways to restructure. They will not be Draconian. We’re not talking about gutting things. We will be pushing very hard to make sure we’re focusing on priorities – trying to organize in a way to get the most bang for our buck.”
Barbour has said that an additional $200 million in cuts must be made in the budget for the current year because tax collections are not meeting projections. He already has made about $172 million in cuts.
Asked when he might make additional cuts, he said, he wanted to wait until he introduced his budget recommendation for next year on Monday and “see legislative reaction.”
The Legislative Budget Committee, which includes Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Speaker Billy McCoy, also is working on a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. That budget proposal is expected to be released in mid December.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal