OUR OPINION: Legislature ends session with mixed results

By NEMS Daily Journal

Opinions varied Thursday after the Legislature’s adjournment of the 2012 regular session, the first time since the late 19th century that Republicans have controlled both the House and Senate.
The leadership changed virtually everywhere in the Capitol, no surprise since a clear partisan divide now dictates most committee chairmanships and appointments – just like Washington, which is not necessarily a place to emulate.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves had hold of the bragging rights in listing what they thought best in legislation adopted, and inarguably everything going to Bryant’s desk passed by a majority. As with all legislation, its impact on the state can only be measured as history makes its report.
One of the priorities of the governor and lieutenant governor that didn’t make was a new public charter school law. Many thought the skids had been greased for an easy passage. Those prognostications were wrong. The train ran off the track because public school supporters in both parties stood up for what they said their constituencies wanted: either no charter schools or very limited charter schools. In the end, the two chambers could not agree, and the issue died on the calendar deadline, with vows that it would return either in 2013 or in a special session, should the governor call one. There should be room for compromise on a reasonable and limited bill.
We hope those public school advocates continue their advocacy for restraint, and rejection of anything called a voucher or other assistance that could be used by a private school, but that they remain open to a modest change in the law.
The Legislature failed to pass a strong bond issue in a time of low interest. All the universities and community colleges badly need maintenance and expansion bond authority in significant amounts. We hope the governor includes a bond issue for higher education in any special session, and we hope the lieutenant governor can be persuaded to alter his opposition.
Overall, legislation did not fare well financially. The gap between full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program increased to $260 million, which means the state once again will not keep its own commitment to its students.
HB 1593, the K-12 funding bill, funds the MAEP at $19.4-million above the current level. However, $23 million of the MAEP funding will be used for the mandatory increase in payments to the retirement system, and schools will have about $3.6 million less than in 2012.
Mississippi can do better. Our overall commitment is weakening.