EDITORIAL: Gloomy start

This week’s start of the 2010 legislative session will be the only easy part of the 90-day attempt to deal successfully with the state’s business – lacking a substantial portion of the money needed to finance services, agencies, institutions and on-going work.
The magnitude of the issues was amply laid out in a letter from Gov. Barbour, released Wednesday just in time to dampen the gaiety of every elected official’s New Year’s celebration.
Barbour, addressing Speaker Billy McCoy and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, reported that December revenue collections “remain on track to collect less revenue than we did the previous fiscal year and significantly less money than was estimated to be collected. Preliminary reports for December show tax collections missing the mark by $41.2 million, which is 10.76 percent below our expectations. This is the 16th consecutive month where we have missed our revenue estimate, and the 13th consecutive month we collected less money than the previous year. The revised revenue estimate adopted in early November by the Join Legislative Budget Committee projected a shortfall for this Fiscal Year of $372 million. … Further cuts to agency budgets are unavoidable.”
While not surprising, few legislators didn’t wince at the news.
Barbour also noted that “historical trends” show the “worst budget years … are the two years following a recessionary period. Mississippi will continue to face months of revenue shortfalls as the nation’s economy recovers from this global recession.”
Happy New Year.
Legislators in both parties know that virtually everything not protected by statute will be on the chopping block – one year before a statewide election and with even deeper shortfalls predicted for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Almost all the sacred cows across the political spectrum could see their blood spilled.
It is obvious, despite detractors,, that the phasing out of the much maligned federal stimulus money, blasted by some legislators even as the prop up state function wit it, will crate issues that no amount of political or ideological criticism can cover.
Even in that scenario, we believe some invaluable programs should be given highest priority for full funding, beginning with education at every level – kindergarten through graduate school.
Other issues will make return appearances.
One, voter identification, was on the cusp of adoption in 2009 when inexplicable partisanship killed it in a Senate committee.. It was the long-sought compromise, and it should be reconsidered and adopted.
At the same time, legislators should move very carefully, considering economic development implications, before altering the right of government to take and pay fair price for private lands for legitimate public purposes like economic development. On this issue, Gov. Barbour has well-supported reservations.
We hope the economic survival concerns of cut-and-sew furniture manufacturers will be closely examined by the Legislature and the governor.
The need for completing the Vision 21 Highway Program statewide becomes more obvious every year, and those who advocate bonding that program should be heard.
We question closing any of the regional mental health facilities in Mississippi without first building universal agreement that something else can provide equal or better service.
The Journal begins comprehensive coverage in Monday’s edition, including contact information for all state officials and legislators from Northeast Mississippi.
Citizens’ voices in governance, always valid, this year are more important than ever.

NEMS Daily Journal