BILL CRAWFORD: Dances of the sugar plum politicians

By Bill Crawford

Ho, ho, ho.
No, no, that’s not Santa Claus.
Those are chuckles at the spectacle of sugar plum politicians as they dance around potent issues.
The Washington Post featured the new dance of our own Sen. Roger Wicker last week. He had put 223 earmarks worth $415.5 million into the Senate’s omnibus spending bill, then twirled around and helped kill the bill at the last minute. He was for it, but now he’s against it, wanting to “change the way business is done in Washington.”
Ironically, this resulted in a story in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal about the bill’s demise right after a story ran in the Starkville Dispatch quoting Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum saying “we’re hoping this will pass.” A number of the earmarks Wicker, along with Sen. Thad Cochran, had sponsored would have gone to Mississippi State.
Of course the senator’s gyrations were nothing compared to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s. He had helped fashion the spending bill, put in 42 earmarks of his own for $86 million, lined up enough Republican votes to pass it, then suddenly quick-stepped over to the anti-earmark side.
Not all the dancing went on in Washington, though. Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant did a little pre-election jig of his own.
Pretty much in step with Gov. Haley Barbour’s budget proposals over the past seven years, the soon-to-be gubernatorial candidate spun away from the governor’s proposed 2012 spending cuts and partnered with the House’s more sugary budget approach.
“As I have said before, the magnitude of these budget challenges are real and with the loss of over $700 million in federal stimulus funds, we must be conservative with our appropriations to state agencies,” said Bryant. “This is why we cut $64 million in travel, equipment costs and unfilled positions.”
If those numbers don’t seem to add up, well, they don’t. The legislative budget recommendations that Bryant and House Speaker Billy McCoy hustled through won’t fully fund state government. A glaring example is the failure to provide for state bond principal and interest payments. Their recommendation is to “level fund” this line item, even though the Legislature authorized issuance of millions of dollars in new bonds this year. Increased payments of about $40 million will have to be made or the state could face default.
While Barbour’s budget laid out specific recommendations for cuts, the Bryant/McCoy plan avoids specific recommendations. However, there are 17 footnotes that imply much strenuous footwork remains to be done.
This Christmas ballet is a prelude to election-year hoedowns where nimble legislators want to captivate you with sugar plums and aesthetic posture, not so much the soundness of their decisions.
Ho, ho, ho.

Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Contact him at crawfolk@bellsouth.net.