Barbour says revenue continues to lag

JACKSON – Mississippi’s already dismal budget picture is not getting any brighter.
October tax collections are $28.6 million, or 6.7 percent, below the official estimate, Gov. Haley Barbour revealed Monday.
For the fiscal year, which started July 1, the state is $111.8 million, or 7.5 percent, below the estimate.
The estimate is significant because it represents the amount of money the Legislature and governor used to build the budget earlier this year. If the revenue comes in lower than the estimate, cuts have to be made,
Barbour already has cut $172 million from the state budget because of sluggish tax collections. Last month he predicted he would have to make additional significant cuts.
Based on October’s tax collections, those cuts appear inevitable.
“It’s clear we’re continuing to feel the effects of the national recession, and as we deal with these shortfalls and plan for the next fiscal year, it’s equally clear this cannot be business as usual,” Barbour said in a prepared statement.
“There’s nothing on the horizon that would indicate state revenues are going to recover anytime soon, and that means state government needs to do the same things families all around Mississippi are doing – set priorities and reduce spending.”
Barbour has said that state law limits his ability to make all of the needed additional cuts, so the Legislature might do some of the trimming.
Even as Barbour deals with the current year’s problems, he and legislative leaders are working on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That budget will be taken up by the 2010 Legislature.
Barbour and legislative leaders, including Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Speaker Billy McCoy, will meet Thursday to adopt a revenue estimate to use in developing that budget.
Barbour has hinted that his budget proposal, which will be released late this month for the upcoming fiscal year, will recommend dramatic changes in the way state government is funded to cope with the current economic downturn.
Rumors persist that there will be recommendations to close or merge universities.
When asked if that was on the table, Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said last week, “A lot of things are being discussed. I don’t know specifically what is on the table.”
The previous fiscal year marked only the second time in recent memory that state tax collections were less than the previous year.
But unless things improve, tax collections for the current year could lag those of last year, meaning Mississippi’s revenue would be dropping back to levels of two years ago.
Year to date, tax collections are $110.9 million, or 7.4 percent, less than the previous year.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal