OUR OPINION: Legislative concerns need to focus in Mississippi

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Legislative Budget Committee’s recommended spending for the 2013 fiscal year, which will be decided in the 2012 legislative session, developed around a theme of austerity – a necessary belt-tightening in the face of revenue projections and the end of federal funding Mississippi has welcomed even as many simultaneously curse its origins.
The budget committee followed the law in producing a recommendation, but its fate is uncertain because the committee qualifies as a lame duck – some of its members serving are in their final days of elected terms, and some moving on to return with a different agenda.
The recommendation would fund public schools and community colleges at 2012 levels, which is better than recommending a cut but far less than both should receive under funding-formula laws on the books.
Public schools will be about $300 million under the level set in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula as a new budget year approaches.
Community colleges need about $77 million to comply with the mid-level funding law of 2007 requiring per student funding at a level midway between public school students and public university students.
On Wednesday, Itawamba Community College President David Cole and Hinds Community College President Clyde Muse met with some legislators from the ICC district about the need to hire more instructors, especially in light of huge enrollment increases on most campuses. The overall $5.39 billion spending recommendation is $127.4 million less than the 2012 budget.
Better outcomes can be expected when legislators in both parties keep their focus on in-state constituents: voters, institutions, agencies and services falling within their oath of office.
Mississippi is not immune to the nationalization of state politics and policies, but national partisan goals aren’t always a fit for what individual states and their citizens need.
Karl Kurtz wrote in a paper for the National Conference of State Legislatures, “When we talk about relations between legislators and their constituents, what does the term ‘constituent’ mean? The most common meaning is the citizens who reside in a legislator’s district.
“It is important to recognize, however, that to a legislator the term constituent includes many others besides ordinary citizens. … Governmental entities such as hospitals, schools, universities or local governments … may similarly require special support and attention. … To a legislator, strong, organized interests in their own district are especially important constituents.”
Any agenda that shifts legislative focus away from Mississippi priorities is the wrong agenda, whether proposed by a Republican or a Democrat.
The 2012 session needs to focus on Mississippi. Other concerns are tangential.