PHILADELPHIA – Political allies disagreed Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair about whether the recently passed state budget was a good thing or bad thing.
While criticizing what he said was excessive spending by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress, Gov. Haley Barbour said, “We in Mississippi can heave a sigh of relief that state government hasn’t followed suit. We’ve had balanced budgets by keeping spending under control.
“We built up our rainy day fund and are spending it prudently over a period of four years. We protected reserves for the future. Lots of people, including many legislators, deserve credit for this.”
Barbour was the final statewide official to address the crowd during the day’s political speakings.
Barbour’s fellow Republican, Treasurer Tate Reeves, earlier in the day had criticized the budget passed by the Legislature in June and signed into law by Barbour.
While praising Barbour and saying he held down spending, Reeves said the state budget spent too much, borrowed too much and relied too much on one-time money.
Perhaps worst of all, he said, taxes were increased $200 million to help fund the budget.
“This budget spends over $300 million more than has ever been spent in Mississippi history,” Reeves said under the tin-roofed Founders’ Square pavilion. “Yep, you heard me right. In a year in which our economy is in the tank…
“How did they do it? Well, by taxing more and borrowing more.”
Barbour agreed to all of those tax increases, which were on cigarettes and hospitals. He was the primary advocate of a $60 million tax increase on hospitals and a tax increase on cigarette companies that did not participate in the tobacco company lawsuit settlement with the state in the 1990s.
Both Republicans said additional cuts in state spending will have to be made in coming years as federal stimulus funds are exhausted. Both also blasted the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
“This administration and the extremely liberal Democrat Congress have gone on a spending spree that would give drunken sailors a bad name,” said Barbour, who by spending the bulk of his 15-minute speech on national issues did little to quell speculation that he would run for president in 2012.
He did not confirm or deny that speculation when questioned by reporters after the speech.
Barbour was the final speaker on what turned out to be a steamy day at the fair made more difficult by the red mud that covered the grounds as a result of Wednesday’s heavy rains.
Despite the mud, the pavilion and grounds outside of it were near capacity for Barbour’s speech, which was not interrupted often by applause but appeared to be followed with rapt attention.
Before Barbour spoke, the crowd heard from Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. The other statewide candidates spoke Wednesday except for Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell, who did not attend this year’s annual event.
Reeves said, “We still have some officials railing against taxes and spending … and then turning around supporting higher taxes and spending when they think no one is looking.”
Hosemann told the crowd his office is renegotiating 16th Section school land leases, getting more money for local school districts. He said in a year’s time, the 16th Section revenue has increased $22.8 million to $77.1 million.
“Every single penny stays in the county (where the land is located) and every single penny goes to educate our children,” he said. “And I think that is a good thing.”
Hosemann and Reeves as well as Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood, who both spoke Wednesday, are viewed as possible gubernatorial candidates in 2011.
Chaney took his name out of speculation.
While saying in 2007 he would provide a recommendation to the Legislature to make the insurance commissioner’s job appointed, he said Thursday, “There is no appetite (in the Legislature) to make this job appointed. I don’t think it should be appointed at this time … I believe this is not a job that will be done in four years. So I plan to run for re-election in 2011.”
Chaney, a first-term Republican, said he wants to continue to work to improve insurance options for all Mississippians, with a special emphasis on insurance coverage on the Gulf Coast.
Insurance rates have skyrocketed there since Hurricane Katrina.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal