EDITORIAL: Bipartisanship

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Senate’s 32-15 bipartisan vote on Thursday to restore $45 million in kindergarten through 12th grade funding for the 2010 budget year partially reaffirmed the state’s obligation to fund its schools.
The vote to restore $50 million to the state budget from the tobacco trust fund, which long ago lost its trust status in fact, responsibly responds to the growing alarm of public education supporters statewide about the burden of cuts so far made by Gov. Barbour in the face of revenue shortfalls.
Thursday’s bipartisan vote does what legislators at every level often find difficult: It set a priority that’s not what the executive branch wants. It is not unusual and it is not unwarranted.
Barbour at first flatly resisted using additional reserve funds for the current fiscal year, but he last month agreed to draw down an additional $50 million in reserves from the state’s tobacco trust fund.
Barbour, however, would not provide significant additional money for education in proposals so far made.
The Senate’s action diverges from the governor’s plans on that point, but it was the right move and one that is tenable and reasonable.
Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, offered the amendment for the vote. He and the other eight Republican senators who voted for the amendment reflect the true bipartisan nature of public school support. Making public school funding an issue of loyalty to the governor or any political party is self defeating. The issue is sustained quality and, as the Senate voted on Thursday, choosing priorities.
We hope the vote indicates a movement toward the kind of broad bipartisan consensus that has led to progress in support of K-12 education and other top-tier state priorities.
The budget cuts in all cases are potentially double: directly to schools and to other agencies, to schoolchildren and other recipients of services, and for the people on whom the cuts fall.
The $437 million cut by the governor so far, with more cuts expected today, is part of an unfortunately necessary exercise for budgetary integrity. But where a prudent opportunity presents itself to soften the severity of cuts to something as foundational as education, it should be taken. Avoiding the layoff of teachers means protecting not only their jobs but the well-being of students.
Thursday’s Senate action represents a true compromise between the House’s desire to take money out of both the tobacco and state rainy day funds and the governor’s insistence that only tobacco funds be used and then primarily for things other than education.
The governor, lieutenant governor and other opponents of Thursday’s Senate can achieve a big part of what they want while also giving some ground. That’s the definition of compromise, and it’s been too rare recently in state government.