EDITORIAL: Seek the best impact

Passage in the U.S. House on Tuesday of a special funding bill that would provide extended Medicaid support at a favorable matching level will empower Mississippi to use additional state funds for public education, a development anticipated and hoped for during the 2010 legislative session.
It’s thought that about $82 million additionally within the state budget can be directed to K-12 education, and the bill also is believed to provide $98 million for teaching positions statewide.
Gov. Barbour blasted the $98 million for teaching positions as a budget disrupter, saying it would require $50-75 million to draw down, but we believe state leadership – Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Speaker Billy McCoy, the education committee chairs, the appropriations chairs and leaders in the state Department of Education – should sit down and see what can be worked out to maximize positive impact.
The worst tact Mississippi could take in a recession is a knee-jerk reaction. Barbour’s statement that the bill was “terrible” legislation designed to appease the “far left” was overheated partisan rhetoric. Most Mississippians would be surprised to learn that saving teacher positions for Mississippi school districts is a “far left” idea.
The bill, HR 4123 – passed 247-161 – was approved mostly on party line voting, as in the Senate, where two Republicans joined all but one Democrat last week in providing the passage margin.
The $26 billion package provides $16 billion to the states to help pay for Medicaid through July 1, 2011, an extension of the stimulus that has kept Medicaid afloat in states like Mississippi, where the program providing health care insurance for many children, the disabled and the poor has 600,000 clients. The Medicaid program is a major economic force in our state: jobs, service fees and health care at all levels.
The rest of the bill – $10 billion – would provide funding for teachers’ salaries in all the states district-by-district, averting layoffs and position eliminations because of revenue shortfalls. The $98 million coming to Mississippi in that portion of the bill would fund an estimated 1,660 teaching positions either eliminated or at risk. Those, too, pack a big economic wallop.
The federal estimate was calculated by taking the average salary for a teacher with five to six years of experience and figuring out how many positions could be filled with the help of the new money.
Republicans in particular, don’t think the budget offset is fast enough, but Mississippi should not turn away from the possible, as it did not shun stimulus funding which some who appropriated and spent it found politically distasteful but necessary.
The Congressional Budget Office contends the legislation would ultimately reduce the federal deficit.
Even in an election year bipartisanship can produce the best outcomes, and that’s what Mississippi needs for this windfall.

NEMS Daily Journal