Barbour embraces controversy in final budget

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour hit familiar themes Tuesday as he unveiled his final budget proposal for the 2012 Legislature to consider.
As in recent years, the Republican governor used his budget proposal to call on consolidating school districts, merging universities, closing mental health facilities, removing civil service protection for state employees and a host of other controversial recommendations.
“Just because things are not easy (to get accomplished) doesn’t mean they are not right,” said Barbour during a news conference.
While Barbour has been viewed as more successful than most governors in getting his budget priorities through the Legislature, those more controversial items have hit roadblocks. Some have been blocked by a Democratic-conrolled House, but some, such as university mergers, also were rejected by a Republican-controlled Senate.
While he is leaving office Jan. 10 because of term limits, both the House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office, will be controlled by Republicans during the next term, meaning some of his proposals, like removing civil service protection for two years for state employees, might get more consideration.
Overall, the governor proposed a $5.48 billion general fund budget, which is slightly less than the current budgeted amount, due largely to the loss of $590 million in one-time money used to fund recurring expenses.
On average, the governor said he is cutting agencies 2.9 percent, including a cut of 1.4 percent, or $31 million, for kindergarten through 12th-grade education, a 2.6 percent cut for higher education and a 2.5 percent cut for community colleges.
The governor is again calling on the elimination of state support for athletic programs on the university and community college level and a reduction of $16.6 million of the $37 million spent on high school athletics.
Barbour called for the universities, community colleges and public schools to use more of their reserve funds to offset budget cuts.
Barbour used $237.4 million in one-time funds from various reserve accounts. He leaves about $100 million in reserves.
Barbour proposed requiring state employees to pay more into the Public Employee Retirement System.
Gov.-elect Phil Bryant is expected to release his budget proposal in the coming days.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com