EDITORIAL: Cut alternatives?

Gov. Barbour’s directive to state agency executives to submit prioritized cost listings of services provided by their divisions, including administration, in anticipation of more budget cuts, comes due Friday.
Most agencies and departments expected the directive; some are less than docile, through their advocates, in accepting what’s presented as inevitable by the governor.
In parallel with concerns expressed within the state Board of Education about adequate time to prioritize expenditures, the private-sector Parents’ Campaign has released information showing an additional $95 million can be cut from so-far-untouched state agencies, and perhaps spare public education from additional reductions.
We believe that possibility should be explored and pursued by public education supporters in the Legislature.
Education spending K-12 makes up about 24 percent of the total state budget, including specially designated funds. The often repeated 60 percent figure spent on schools is a bit misleading because it refers to all levels of education – K-12, community colleges and universities – as a proportion of the general fund budget, which is only about two-thirds of the total budget. Public schools have been cut 5 percent (as allowed) – $114-million – but that is 66.3 percent of the $172-million in cuts made so far for all agencies.
School districts in Northeast Mississippi absorbed millions of dollars in the education cuts, and the toll on schools’ strengths is still being assessed.
Further, some long-time legislators and education advocates like Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, believe additional budget cuts aren’t necessary this year because of two potential reserve funding sources: the “rainy day fund,” and the Health Care Trust Fund, which has been routinely used for budget items other than health care.
Barbour, Bryan noted, has executive authority to use $50 million from the rainy day reserve but has not done so, instead preferring cuts.
As the Parents’ Campaign notes, 75 to 85 percent of most school district budgets fund personnel costs: salaries, retirement, and insurance benefits. Budget cuts implemented after teacher contracts are signed must be made up from the portion of the budget that lies outside of these contracted personnel costs: program reductions.
In some districts, class sizes have increased because vacancies have not been filled because of revenue reductions.
We’re not quibbling about falling revenue, but we’re suggesting other methods may be available within existing resources to deal with some, perhaps all, additional shortfalls.
If a special session is called next week, perhaps the governor will give the Legislature an opportunity to express its preferences.

NEMS Daily Journal