By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, says a bipartisan consensus has developed in the House and Senate that additional funds are needed for public education despite the current budget crisis.
“All of us understand public education will be underfunded… but we don’t have to underfund public education to the extent being discussed,” said Bryan, who spoke Monday at the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps luncheon.
Bryan said strong majorities – including Democrats and some Republicans – in both chambers have voted in favor of more funding for public education than advocated by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and the Senate leadership.
He said a major challenge when the Legislature returns on April 20 to try to enact a budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be to maintain the additional $30 million for public education that passed the Senate earlier this session over the objections of that chamber’s leadership.
“Even then, it will leave public schools underfunded – well over $100 million,” said Bryan, who chairs the Senate Public Health Committee. But he said the additional money will make “a major difference for school districts trying to limp through this next school year.”
Barbour, citing a dramatic downturn in tax collections, has cut nearly $500 million from state agencies, including $312 million from kindergarten through higher education. Bryan said the 9.5 percent cut was an over-reaction from Barbour because the state has cash reserves totaling about $750 million.
Bryan, like House Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Plantersille, also was critical of Barbour for cutting $14 million from the reimbursement rates to health care providers who treat Medicaid patients to cover a deficit.
“We are beating up on the very people we rely on to provide good, reliable care to Medicaid recipients,” Bryan said. Barbour’s Division of Medicaid has announced plans to cut the reimbursement rates to health care providers, such as doctors and dentists, for the final three months of the fiscal year to deal with the shortfall.
The House has proposed to make up for the deficit out of reserve funds, but Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said he does not intend to take up the legislation.
Barbour and Nunnelee have been reluctant to take as much money from reserve funds to deal with the current budget crisis as has been advocated by Bryan and other legislators. Barbour said the reserve money is needed to deal with future budget woes.
A cut of $14 million will mean a loss of about $75 million in matching federal funds.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.