Seeing cuts, Barbour asks for agency priorities

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour, saying more budget cuts are necessary because of sagging tax collections, wants state agencies to rank in importance the services they perform.
In a statement Tuesday, the Republican governor said he is asking “each agency to conduct a detailed, top to bottom analysis of its operations in order to identify their most essential programs and priorities.”
The governor gave the agencies until Oct. 23 to compile the information,which he said he “will report… to the people of Mississippi” as part of the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year.
In early September, after only two months of the budget year, he announced nearly $172 million in cuts with $158.3 million of that total coming from education. He said at the time more cuts might be needed.
That need became apparent, he said, after September tax collections came in $44.9 million, or 10.2 percent, below the estimate. For the first three months of the fiscal year, tax collections are $83.2 million, or 7.7 percent, below the estimate.
State law requires the governor to make cuts, take up to $50 million out of the rainy day fund to offset cuts, or do both, when tax collections fall below the official revenue estimate by more than 2 percent.
Barbour said Tuesday his options are limited because state law prevents him from cutting any agency more than 5 percent until he cuts all agencies by 5 percent. When forced to make cuts of more than 5 percent, he said, state law requires those to be evenly distributed.
The governor already has cut education by 5 percent. In September, he said he did not anticipate cutting education any more because he did not think cuts totaling more than 5 percent would be required of other agencies.
But on Tuesday, Barbour said balancing the budget will likely require cuts of more than 5 percent, meaning education may be cut again.
He made it clear, though, that he might not make all the needed cuts to balance the budget.
“Clearly, the governor’s statutory budget reduction authority is an inadequately precise tool in this case,” Barbour said. “I will make further cuts where I can, but it is likely the Legislature will have to deal with the need for more cuts when it returns in January 2010.”
Barbour did not identify how much more he thinks will need to be cut, and he also did not reveal when he would make those cuts.

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

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal