Senate panel gives governor more cut authority

JACKSON – The Senate Appropriations Committee, on a voice vote Monday, gave Gov. Haley Barbour additional authority to make budget cuts to deal with the state’s revenue shortfall.
State Fiscal Officer Kevin Upchurch told the Appropriations Committee, “I think the executive branch could act quickly with this authority and do it as a surgeon would do it.”
Under current law, when revenue collections do not meet projections, the governor can cut any agency up to 5 percent. But he cannot cut any agency more than 5 percent until he cuts all agencies 5 percent.
Plus, if he makes reductions of more than 5 percent, the cuts must be the same percentage for all agencies.
The Senate bill, which the governor requested, would give him the authority to make cuts of his choosing up to 10 percent.
Thus far, he has cut $225 million, and has said another $215 million needs to be cut. He has cut most agencies – including education – by 5 percent, but some he has not cut or has cut much less than 5 percent.
Barbour has cut the budget for the Department of Corrections 1 percent. Chris Epps, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said that if his budget is cut 5 percent he will be forced to release inmates and lay off employees.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, advocate giving the governor the additional authority.
“This is the best of a lot of difficult alternatives,” said Nunnelee, who is expected to take up the proposal in front of the full Senate this week. “I do not like any of them.”
Thus far, the House leadership has resisted giving the governor the authority.
Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said, “In a situation this serious, the governor should be forthright and let the public know where he wants to make the cuts. Then we would work with him.”
Some House members have said they fear that if Barbour is giving unfettered authority to make cuts, he would slash education while protecting other agencies.
Sen. Bill Stone, D-Ashland, was one of several Democrats to vote against the proposal in the Senate Appropriations Committee because of his “concern for education.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal