OPINION: House offers alternative to Barbour’s plan

Gov. Haley Barbour has demanded additional authority to cut state budgets. Under current law, he can cut most budgets as much as 5 percent at his discretion. After all available budgets have been cut 5 percent, any additional cuts must be across the board.
For at least 20 years governors have used this law to balance the budget when tax collections fall below projections, and the state has survived. Now, this governor says the system doesn’t work. He wants authority to cut any budget up to 10 percent at his discretion and to exempt agencies he believes cannot or should not be cut.
The current projection of the revenue shortfall for this year is $347million. The governor has already cut $224 million. Of that amount, $151 million has come from education. There is still a $123 million hole in the budget. Under the governor’s plan, he would be able to cut the entire $123 million from education, and that appears to be his intent.
What the governor has not said is that he has alternatives. Last year the legislature gave him the authority to restore budget cuts. If he determines that cutting certain budgets should be exempt, he can restore their cuts by taking the money from other agencies. He also has the authority to transfer up to $50 million from the state’s “rainy day” fund to offset cuts. And finally, the governor has $61 million of unspent federal stimulus money that he can use at his discretion. That money is also available to restore any cuts he is required to make.
In lieu of increasing the governor’s discretionary authority from 5 percent to 10 percent, the House of Representatives has offered a plan that would address the governor’s concerns about cutting certain budgets. Budgets that cannot be cut for legal or practical reasons would simply be exempt. Under the House plan, education would still suffer nearly 70 percent of any remaining cuts, as much as $91million. But the remaining $32 million would be borne by other agencies that can be cut.The proposal is a reasonable middle ground. But as usual, the governor has refused to compromise.
Throughout his term in office, Barbour has attacked the education budgets. The House is just as adamant that education is a priority. If, as the governor says, education is his priority, he should work with the House and the Senate to reach a compromise on the budget cuts that will address his concerns without devastating our public schools and universities.

Rep. Cecil Brown is chairman of House Education Committee. Contact him at cbrown@house.ms.gov.

Rep. Cecil Brown