Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves sent the clear message recently that legislative leaders are looking for ways to cut budgets – much more so than providing additional funds for programs that are working.
Reeves made his point during a meeting of the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee with Max Arinder, director of the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee.
Reeves and the Budget Committee are tasking Arinder and his staff with developing policies and procedures to revitalize the state’s performance budgeting model that was created in the early 1990s but that many say has been little more than window dressing in the annual budgeting process.
Reeves told Arinder that the goal is to trim budgets and said that he believed that most of the other 13 members of the Budget Committee would agree with that goal. The implication was that with the 2011 election giving Republicans control of both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion for the first time since the 1800s, it is a new day and the priority would be on making cuts.
Arinder quickly told the lieutenant governor, “I understand what you are saying” and would endeavor to help him achieve that goal.
What was lost in the exchange is that for the past seven four-year terms, Republicans have controlled the Governor’s Mansion for six of those and have controlled the Senate for four of those. To a very real extent Republicans have been in control for some time. After all, Republicans were not saying Haley Barbour was not in control during his two terms as governor.
When the Democrats controlled the House, there was a similar split on the Budget Committee. The Republicans controlled the seven Senate members of the committee and the Democrats controlled the seven House members.
That split often led to some interesting and intense debates. The Budget Committee hearings each September where members meet with agency heads is unique in the Mississippi governing process. because seldom, if at any other time, are the key members of the House and Senate meeting together for an extended period discussing and debating key issues in public .
Now, with Republicans controlling both chambers there is little debate in those Budget Committee hearings. As Reeves artfully pointed out to Arinder, the members are of like mind, and they want to revive the performance-based budgeting process as a method to cut or at least curb government spending.
Under performance-based budgeting, agencies are supposed to provide data explaining why a program is needed and whether it is working. Presumably, if a program is not working, it is not funded.
Performace-based budgeting has always begged the question if, for instance, the state is last in terms of health outcomes in so many categories should legislators stop funding programs at the Department of Health? Or could it be that Mississippians are so unhealthy because the Legislature does not put as much money in programs to improve the health of the populace as other states.
When a state has the highest percentage of poor people and one of the highest percentages of citizens with no health insurance, it stands to reason that there will be a bunch of unhealthy people in that state.
Now, perhaps legislators need to spend a lot of time and money developing performance-based budgeting models to figure that out, but for the ordinary person some things can be figured out with a little common sense and deductive reasoning.
By the same token, many people, rightfully, are concerned about the poor academic performance – compared to other states – of Mississippi schools. Again, if less money is being spent than in other states, while at the same time there is a much higher percentage of impoverished students, who by all reasonable accounts are more difficult to educate, what else should be expected other than a substandard performance?
What else should be expected if Mississippi is one of the few states in the nation actually reducing per pupil expenditures?
No doubt, there is government waste in the state, and performance-based budgeting might be the most effective way of ferreting it out. But Reeves is astute enough to know this state has lots of needs, and, unfortunately, it will take money to address many of them.
So the prediction is that there might be some cuts, but overall state spending will continue to increase – not decrease – even under total Republican rule.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.