OUR OPINION: Education needs major share of 'new" revenue

By NEMS Daily Journal

Legislative work with revised and increased revenue projections for the balance of the 2012 fiscal cycle and upcoming in the 2013 budget year started on a positive note Wednesday morning when the House Appropriations Committee voted to provide a slight increase in K-12 public school funding compared to 2012.
The increases, while modest, defy expectations and recommendations for cuts from the original Legislative Budget Committee document.
House Bill 1593 provides for a $23 million increase to cover the cost of retirement as well as a $3.7 million increase in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the foundation for adequacy in instruction, which is underfunded by more than $230 million in the 2012 budget cycle.
Teacher supply funds will increase by $4 million, and the National Board Certified Teacher program and the Chickasaw Cession fund are fully funded.
The budget outlook changed Tuesday with an official adjustment in the revenue projection – upward by $228 million, an amount that drew bipartisan agreement and reflects better-than-anticipated tax collections so far in the 2012 fiscal cycle, which started in July.
Almost every advocate for a specific program and agency will seek some of the additional revenue, but education budgets – K-12, community colleges and universities – need more money to meet basic necessities.
Community colleges have made too little progress toward an official goal of per student funding halfway between public schools and universities.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee voted Tuesday to add $99 million to the budget for the current year, which ends June 30, and about $130 million to the budget for the 2013 year, which begins July 1. The budget is about $4.6 billion.
Adding the revenue increases the 2012 budget by 3.5 percent over 2011, and the next fiscal year’s budget will be 1.3 percent bigger than the 2012 cycle.
State Economist Darrin Webb said Mississippi’s economic outlook is slightly stronger than a few months ago and that the state has avoided slipping again into recession.
“We … continue to grow at a slow pace,” Webb told the Budget Committee. Tax collections for the first eight months of the 2012 fiscal year have been 4.8 percent higher than forecast.
March 28 is the deadline for the House and Senate to pass the first versions of budget bills, then the two chambers vote on the opposite chamber’s bills. April 30 is the deadline.
Everyone should agree that working with more money makes successful governing more possible.