Governor Haley Barbour made bold proposals to tackle the state's two-year budget hole. He is expected to take bold steps where he can.
The Legislature...well, nothing bold yet.
Okay, okay. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee did trot out some budget cuts: K-12 at 5.9 pdecent; most agencies at 10 percent; agencies under the Governor at 12 percent; and the Legislature at 7 percent (note smaller vs. bigger losers).
But, the committee took no bold steps toward consolidation, merger, or "shared services." Instead, they minimized cuts using one-time money. Since this money can only be used once, while the costs they covered go on into the future, this tactic simply delays the cuts a year.
Why take bold steps today when you can wait 'til tomorrow?
Well, the real budget hole is not this coming fiscal year, but the next one. That's when legislators face complete withdrawal of federal bail-out money and the budget hole gets huge.
No doubt that is why the Governor proposed bold steps now. To wait is to risk destructive, last-minute cuts in the second year.
Now, a sheepish approach by the Legislature comes as no surprise. There are individual legislators who try to ram bold things through. But the majority of the flock tends to ruminate, mill about, and avoid bold pursuits.
There are creatures of the Legislature and the Constitution, however, with the independence and authority to be bold. One is the state College Board, created by the Constitution and given extraordinary power over our eight public universities.
College Board, you got game?
Give Ron Mason and Mark Keenum "New Year" resolutions to remember. Make Ron, since George Ross is leaving, president of Alcorn State as well as Jackson State. Make Mark president of MUW along with MSU now. Don't wait until Claudia Limbert leaves in June. Resolve for them to start with "back room" operations, find ways to share services, and reduce costs.
You see, it is not necessary to merge names or missions to save money. And, Board, you can save big bucks by avoiding two expensive presidential searches.
The same goes for the state Board of Education, another creature of the Constitution. You know shared back room services and some administrative mergers can save money. Be as bold for efficiency as you are for quality.
The state Board for Community and Junior Colleges, as a creature of the Legislature it is unlikely you will become a "governing board" as the governor proposed. But you have clout over your 15 colleges. Use it to move toward shared services.
A creature of the Legislature with creeping reach and authority is the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services. How 'bout using this growing power? "Shared services" is your province. Own it!
Yes, Mississippi, there are many critters in state government besides the governor and Legislature. While we expect those two to lead, there are times when others should stand up and take the bold first steps.
You know, unlike sheep, when enough bulls get going, the herd stops ruminating and gets a move on.
Bill Crawford is a former legislator and College Board trustee from Meridian, MS. Email: email@example.com.