EDITORIAL: Compromise

By NEMS Daily Journal

The War of Restorations continued Thursday in the Legislature, with the House overwhelmingly passing a $79 million bill that would use various state reserve funds to partially restore funding for public education and other agencies to functional levels for the rest of the 2010 budget year.
The 106-14 vote bipartisan vote in the House included some of the usually most diehard supporters of the governor’s agenda, and it represents a veto proof margin, were that eventually needed.
House supporters of the restoration of funds (cuts were made earlier by Gov. Barbour to offset revenue shortfalls) hope the $79 million will be accepted in the Senate as a “true compromise” between a $100 million bill passed earlier by the House and a $58 million version passed by the Senate in response.
The restoration, which would be drawn from unencumbered funds in state reserve accounts, represents less than 20 percent of the $458 million in reductions so far ordered by Barbour. The governor is required and empowered to make cuts when state tax collections consistently fail to meet projections.
Most legislators concede that at least some 2010 program funds must be cut, but there’s widespread disagreement about the extent of reductions measured against reserve funds that might be used to soften the financial crisis.
The governor has a right and obligation to make cuts, but the Legislature, regardless of partisan affiliation and leaning, is equally empowered to differ and, in effect, reverse the governor’s decision.
Spending in fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1, also faces shortfalls, but those decisions don’t necessarily affect spending in 2010 – a budget that was finally approved June 30, 2009.
We believe the middle ground chosen by the House on Thursday is a good faith effort to move a broad majority toward agreement. The Senate and House now have spoken multiple times with differing levels of funding that disagree with where the governor started.
House leaders say they hope the additional funds, coming from the more than $500 million in reserve accounts, will help schools and state agencies avoid layoffs and drastic reductions in services and work.
The House plan notably does not use so-called “rainy day” funds – a reserve zealously guarded by the governor. It instead would use $69 million from the tobacco trust fund, which is no longer a real trust, and which receives payments each fiscal year, and $10 million from other funds.
Some legislators in both chambers have worked hard reaching a productive compromise.
We hope the Senate agrees and sends this bill to the governor for enactment.