Gov.'s proposed budget cuts less than earlier talk

By BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour proposes cutting most state agencies on average 8 percent instead of the 15 percent he talked about in October.
K-12 education would be close to current funding, while universities and community colleges would be cut about 3 percent.
The Republican governor released his budget Monday. While it includes recommendations that stir conversation, it includes far fewer controversial proposals than the one he released in November 2009.
Barbour’s proposal will be submitted to the 2011 Legislature as it works on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
“The budget I am producing here is a balanced budget,” Barbour said during a Monday afternoon news conference.
In October, Barbour sent a letter to state agency heads asking them for recommendations on how to make cuts totaling 15 percent. At the time, some legislators said the budget situation for the upcoming fiscal year was bleak, but would not require cuts of as much as 15 percent.
But the cuts Barbour proposed are still significant because they will come on top of double-digit reductions that have occurred in recent years because of an unprecedented slowdown in state tax collections.
Those past reductions have resulted in the elimination of positions, tuition hikes and local tax increases, various legislators have said.
Barbour pointed out difficult state budget decisions had to be made because the projected revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, while finally growing, is still expected to be 7 percent below what the state collected in 2008 before the economic downturn hit.
Plus, the state is losing nearly $400 million in federal stimulus funds that plugged holes in the current budget.
He said his proposal “contains tough decisions that must be made to ensure Mississippi leads as the country slowly emerges from this recession. Real structural change is needed, and Mississippians deserves leaders willing to make bold decisions to protect the financial integrity of our state.”
Last year, to deal with the economic downturn, Barbour proposed merging school districts and consolidating universities. Those proposals did not gain any legislative traction.
While he still said he supports those proposals, they are not part of his budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
But he does propose:
n Consolidating some “back room” or administrative functions at universities, for local school districts and for government entities.
n Requiring a portion of the university and community college funding to be based on their ability to graduate students.
n Prohibiting any state funds from being spent on community college athletics. He said that would save $3 million per year.
n Removing civil service protection for state employees.
n Saving $100 million in Medicaid funding by reducing the reimbursement level for some providers – notably hospitals and nursing homes.
Eric Clark, executive director of the Community and Junior College Board, said he has been looking at ways to develop a fair formula to award higher education entities based on performance.
As far as prohibiting Mississippi’s 15 two-year schools from spending state funds on athletics, he said it would be fair to treat community colleges the same as high schools and universities in terms of spending on athletics.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said, “He has some good ideas, but we can’t agree with everything the governor brings forward … This is a good starting point.”
House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said he had not had time to study Barbour’s budget but, “It is about what we expected. He has some numbers I disagree with. We will just have to work through it.”
Barbour spends $257 million of the state’s reserve funds in his proposal, but saves $185 million.
Barbour said his proposal leaves kindergarten through 12th education at level funding and cuts funding to universities and community colleges about 3 percent.
But he does not provide the funds needed to give teachers a bump in pay, as state law mandates, for their additional year of experience. And he takes for the upcoming school year $65 million of the $98 million provided to local school districts by Congress.
State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said it was “short-changing” the districts to take money provided to them by Congress for the current year and appropriate it for the upcoming budget year.

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