JACKSON – Kindergarten through 12th grade education would be cut an additional $96 million if Gov. Haley Barbour gets the flexibility he wants to reduce state budgets.
The Republican governor has outlined his proposed cuts in response to House Democrats who said Barbour should do so before asking legislators for more authority to reduce the cash-strapped state budget.
In total, Barbour proposes an additional $191 million in cuts from the $5 billion general fund. He cut about $225 million, including $117.4 million from K-12 education, earlier this fiscal year because state revenue collections are running below expectations.
The governor released the proposed cuts in hopes of getting legislators, especially House Democrats, to go along with his request to provide him more flexibility in making the cuts.
Under current law, when revenue does not meet projections, the governor has several options to ensure a balanced budget.
One option is to cut any agency up to 5 percent of its appropriations. But he cannot cut any agency more than 5 percent until he cuts all agencies 5 percent.
And if he cuts more than 5 percent, each agency, with a few notable exceptions, must receive the same percentage cut.
The Senate, at the governor’s behest, already has approved legislation to given him the authority to cuts agencies of his choosing up to 10 percent. House Democrats had asked the governor to provide a list of his planned cuts before deciding whether they would support the bill.
“There was some hesitation on the part of some legislators. They were afraid cuts would be especially hard on one agency or another,” said Dan Turner, a spokesman for Barbour. “The governor provided them a list.”
Most agencies would be reduced a total of 10 percent when the proposed cuts are added to the reductions he made in October and December.
The governor does not cut debt service, court-ordered lawsuit settlements and the salary supplement for national board certified teachers. Some areas he cuts less than 10 percent.
For instance, he cuts:
n Corrections, 3 percent.
n Student financial aid, 5 percent.
n Medicaid, 6.2 percent.
n Human Services, 4.6 percent
n Rehab Services, 6.7 percent.
n The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, 8.7 percent.
n The judiciary, 7.4 percent.
But he does cut district attorneys and their staff 10 percent. District attorneys already have told legislators they fear that assistant district attorneys might have to be laid off because of the 5 percent cut they absorbed earlier.
The total cuts for K-12 education are 9 percent. For higher education, the cut is 9.5 percent, or $86.8 million.
In evaluating the governor’s plan, House Appropriations Committee Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said, “It’s not pretty.”
Stringer said he is determining the difference in how much the cuts will be if Barbour just follows current law and reduces each agency by an equal percentage.
“It’s going to be bad either way,” Stringer said. “It is what it is. I don’t think we can get the support right now in the House to pass the governor’s bill.”
The governor is making cuts because during the first six months of the current fiscal year, revenue collections are about 8 percent below projections.
But many Democrats argue that he has alternatives to making cuts. Stringer has pointed out that various reserves hold more than $500 million.
The governor has been reluctant to use some of those reserves, primarily because he believes the revenue will decline for the next couple of years and the reserve funds will be needed then.
Most agree that the cuts at the level the governor is proposing will result in a reduction of state services and the layoff of employees, including teachers.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the governor is asking legislators “to make the political decision that we would rather keep money stored away in those accounts than to protect public education.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal