EDITORIAL: Prime opportunity

By NEMS Daily Journal

Thursday’s Senate passage of a bill restoring $79 million in cuts to programs and agencies slashed by Gov. Haley Barbour presented Barbour with a will-of-the-people mandate through their legislators.
The governor has rejected the carefully crafted bipartisan compromise that has now passed both houses. He will veto the bill. The Legislature should override, but that will take a two-thirds vote in a Senate where even a simple majority seldom has the will to defy Barbour’s wishes.
The Senate’s 26-22 passage of the $79 million restoration from unencumbered funds goes directly to Barbour. Barbour claims the funds that would be used in the restoration will be needed in future budget years – and he wants more for prisons now.
The money’s needed now for other things, too.
The wholly reasonable $79 million package breaks out like this:
– $67 million for restored budget cuts
– $51 million – 76 percent – for education, including K-12, community colleges, and universities. Of that, $38 million – 56 percent of the total – would go directly to strapped public schools.
– $8 million – 12 percent – for public health, including University Medical Center, and mental health (including a residential center in Tupelo);
– $6 million – 9 percent – would go to public safety (the Highway Patrol), including district attorneys, the state crime lab, and prisons.
– $2 million – 3 percent – would go to the Tax Commission and veterans ($1 million to each category), with the veterans restoration affecting the veterans home in Oxford. The governor cut funds the veterans themselves paid to stay in veterans homes.
In the mix is $1 million for prosecutors’ mileage to get them to court and to avoid further cuts in their work. The bill also includes money for nationally certified teacher salary supplements, Chickasaw Cession (Northeast Mississippi school districts included) funds, and $34 million for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The restoration puts Chickasaw Cession districts on an equal funding footing with 16th section land districts. In the $2.5 million for IHL is money to fund scholarships that would be empty promises without money to guarantee them.
Another measure, Senate Bill 2495, offers opportunity if the veto is sustained. It would restore $100 million to about the same mix as the $79 million bill. The Senate voted to invite conference but it has not initiated action. The principal players are Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.
Students, veterans, highway patrol officers, mental health patients, university students, nationally certified teachers, potential scholarship recipients and others who believed they could trust their state await an answer.
Barbour and the Senate leadership hold the keys to that outcome.