By NEMS Daily Journal
The Legislature’s quick passage on Wednesday of $82 million in restored funding for public education, corrections, community colleges and mental health indicates public opinion overrode Gov. Haley Barbour’s previous hard line.
Both chambers acted on the compromise negotiated by House and Senate leaders in short order, sending it for an expected Barbour signature.
The whole process required weeks of agony for those whose jobs and incomes were threatened with unrestored funding levels and for those who ran or worked in programs whose program funding already has been hammered by more than $450 million in cuts for fiscal 2010.
The vote was unanimous in the Senate, and only two House members, neither from Northeast Mississippi, voted against it.
The report adds $37 million back to K-12 education, $4 million for mental health and $16 million more for the Department of Corrections.
Barbour had said prisoners would be freed if more money weren’t allocated to corrections.
Community colleges like ICC, Northeast, East Mississippi, and Northwest, will receive $4 million more systemwide from federal stimulus funds controlled by Barbour.
The report also funds the Chickasaw Cession fund, affecting school districts in Northeast Mississippi, and ensures board certified teacher salary supplements.
The vote, while offering modest relief from on-going draconian cuts, isn’t a great victory for adequacy. It is an incremental advance making a bad situation slightly less bad.
Mississippi’s education funding can’t fully recover unless a strong economic recovery grows out of what might be described as marginally improving situations statewide.
The other scenario, more a wish right now than a possibility, is some kind of progressive tax increase providing more revenue.
Nothing in Wednesday’s passage or in the text of the bill suggests more cuts can’t or won’t be made before the end of the 2010 fiscal year June 30.
Projections for fiscal year 2011 anticipate higher revenue shortfalls, a sure sign that the same kind of battles can be expected over the 2011 budget, which must be passed by the 2010 session or a special session. The new budget year begins July 1, 2010.
The best substance coming from the approved compromise is bipartisan and bicameral cooperation on an issue of substance.
The Legislature has fallen into a sad pattern of hyper-partisan division, a practice unfortunately copied from the Congress and fully encouraged by some.
Reputable opinion polls show low public esteem for and confidence in Congress. Accurate polling in Mississippi probably would show the same for the Legislature, but the negotiated compromise is a step in the right direction.