Impact of federal budget cuts uncertain in state

By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal

Cuts totaling $38 billion in the 2011 budget passed last week by Congress include reductions in many federal agency programs important in Mississippi, but so far little is known about the effect on the state.
First District Rep. Alan Nunnelee said Wednesday he does not know the specifics of funding cuts for agencies like the Federal Highway Administration because decisions on spending will be made at the departmental level in Washington.
Nunnelee’s views were echoed by Sen. Thad Cochran and a spokesman for Sen. Roger Wicker.
Nunnelee, Wicker and Cochran, all Republicans, each voted for the cuts, which were part of a bill funding the federal government for the rest of fiscal year 2011, which ends Sept. 30.
Wicker, after passage, said the vote represented a “start to putting our country back on a fiscally responsible path, but deeper cuts in the coming months will be necessary. … We must quit spending money that we do not have.”
Wicker communications director Rick Curtsinger said this week the impact in Mississippi won’t be known until decisions are made beyond Congress.
Cuts passed reduce spending for agriculture, transportation, the Interior Department and other agencies with a major presence and payroll in Mississippi.
Cochran, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement, “Various federal agencies will now look at their budgets and decide where to implement these cuts. Projects and programs in Mississippi will be affected in some manner … I expect that Congress will exercise some oversight over how the agencies carry out congressional directives to reduce their budgets.
“Reducing discretionary spending must be part of a debt-reduction formula, but it cannot by itself be considered the primary factor for gaining control over the budget,” Cochran said.
Mississippi Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert said Wednesday he has no information on how a reduction of $3.2 billion in highway construction contracting will affect Mississippi, if at all.
“Anything I could say at this point would be pure speculation,” Tagert commented.
The highway cuts included $620 million in previously approved transportation earmarks, the House Appropriations Committee reported in a news release.
Kyle Steward, executive director of external affairs at Mississippi State University, said the university has not determined the impacts.
“The short answer is we do not know yet,” Steward said.
The university is a major recipient of federal research funds in agriculture and the engineering sciences.

Contact Joe Rutherford at (662) 678-1597 or joe.rutherford@journaliinc.com.