EDITORIAL: Lessons learned

Some legislative leaders, a week removed from the successfully but intensely negotiated and debated resolution of the state’s 2010 budget issues, see compromises made in closing days mostly for the good in the way things turned out.
Some also say agreement and passage of a Medicaid funding measure in the closing hours of June 30 places the statewide health insurance program for the poor on steady ground for the next three years but that it did not entirely resolve financial challenges.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Alan Nunnelee, a Tupelo Republican, said Tuesday in an editorial board meeting with the Daily Journal that outlying years 2011 and 2012 remain problematic, especially the 2012 budget cycle.
Nunnelee said he and others believe major differences remain on how much can be reasonably spent from the state’s rainy day fund, a de facto savings account set aside for hard economic times. The 2009 session spent about $95 million, leaving $265 million in the account for coming years.
The rainy day fund, plus about $444 million in federal stimulus money, was used to balance the 2010 budget, which took effect July 1.
Nunnelee is not a supporter of the Obama administration’s general approach in using the stimulus, but he acknowledged its role in enabling Mississippi to meet its obligations.
Nunnelee is among the senators who foresee the necessity of finding more “efficiencies” in the way Mississippi spends money, including an examination of the number of school districts. Nunnelee says the issue can’t fully be addressed from the Legislature but must come from within districts and counties where efficiencies could stretch state dollars invested in public schools.
Nunnelee, based on history, is arguably right about which political forces can move the school district issue, and he’s also right about putting issues in the public light years before decisions are required.
We hope the bare avoidance of a new fiscal year without a budget serves as a powerful lesson for legislators whose absolute positions prevented meaningful negotiations until the last minute – after Gov. Barbour had seized the momentum with his ability to call a special session and limit the topics for consideration.
Barbour’s pressure worked, as Rep. Cecil Brown, a Democrat who chairs the Education Committee noted in an interview on Mississippi Public Broadcasting radio Tuesday morning.
We hope legislators in both parties and in the different caucuses learned a valuable lesson in the near-chaos of the 2009 session: Hard decisions don’t become easier with delay, and the state’s money isn’t free, it’s drawn into the revenue stream by taxation from Jackson or Washington.

NEMS Daily Journal