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Barbour: Better leadership needed to solve state’s financial problems

Mississippi needs leadership to get out of its current financialtroubles, Haley Barbour said Friday, and the Republican believes hecan provide it as the state’s next governor.

A need for leadership, economic development and education wereamong topics Barbour addressed during a visit with the DAILY LEADEReditorial board. Barbour, who announced his gubernatorialintentions earlier last week, promised an issues-orientedcampaign.

“I’m going to focus on showing why I ought to be governorinstead of why someone else ought not be,” Barbour said.

Barbour said the state had gone from having a record unallocatedsurplus to spending $600 million more than it plans to take in thisyear. He said the state needs leadership that is honest withcitizens about the state’s financial condition and is willing toset spending priorities regardless of the politicalconsequences.

“With our financial condition, we need a governor who can leadthe legislature to control spending,” Barbour said.

Of the deficit spending amount, Barbour said $500 million is innon-recurring revenue. He was also critical of plans to use highwaytrust fund money elsewhere and diversion of the state’s tobaccosettlement money to fund other areas.

“You cannot run your business that way…” Barbour said. “Theyear is soon approaching when there won’t be any one-time money, ornot enough one-time money.”

Controlling spending is the first leadership challenge, Barboursaid. He added that he was not in favor of raising taxes.

“If you raise taxes during a spending binge, you’re just feedingthe beast,” Barbour said.

Barbour said the situation could not be corrected in one year.However, he cited Medicaid, welfare and corrections as three areasthat consistently overspend.

“The first thing you’ve got to do it stop that,” Barbour said,adding that departments must live within their budgets.

Barbour linked Medicaid cures to stronger verification ofrecipients’ eligibility for the program.

Talking about Mississippi’s reputation as a generous state,Barbour said citizens are generous and do help people. However, hesaid citizens do not want to give to those people who can helpthemselves.

“We need more emphasis on helping the truly needy than helpingthe greedy,” Barbour said.

Regarding corrections, he touted the benefits of privateregional jails, which he said are less expensive to operate thanthe state prison at Parchman. During Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice’syears, the jails were kept at capacity, yet the percentage hadfallen to 80 percent in recent years.

“We ought to keep as few prisoners at Parchman as is practical,”Barbour said.

In the area of education, Barbour expressed support for theMississippi School of the Arts. He said the Mississippi School ofMath and Science is a “big plus.”

“And I think this will be a big plus for the state,” Barboursaid.

Barbour called for setting standards of excellence and notcatering to the lowest common dominator in education. He said theissue was not just money, but judging people on resultsproduced.

“We’ve got to quit judging politicians’ commitment to educationby how much money they’re willing to spend,” Barbour said.

In measuring achievement, Barbour said schools that are ratingsuperior should be freed from state requirements other than tomaintain that level of activity. He said that action would allowstate officials to concentrate more on improving schools that arenot performing up to standards.

“We can’t dumb down our children and expect them to succeed inthe economy they’re going to have to succeed in,” Barbour said,pointing that Mississippi students are competing against studentsfrom around the world.

Touching on other education topics, Barbour touted merit pay forsuccessful teachers and innovative and alternative instructorcertification approaches for getting more teachers into theclassroom.

While he is all for a computer in every classroom, Barbour said,”I’m much more for having discipline in every classroom.”

In pursuing the governor’s mansion, Barbour said he planned agrassroots operation and a people-to-people campaign. The candidatesaid he did not disagree with the incumbent’s estimate that eachcampaign would spend about $6 million.

“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable amount,” Barbour said. “Itcould be less. It could be more.”

A potential obstacle for Barbour to overcome is an image as a”fat-cat” Republican who’s spent more time in Washington than inMississippi in recent years.

Addressing that question, Barbour said he has always lived inYazoo City even while serving as National Republican CommitteeChairman and while working closely with President Ronald Reagan andboth the first and current President Bush. He said he hoped to showcitizens the “obvious” benefits of having a governor with closeties to federal leadership.

Commenting on his strategy, Barbour said he hoped to secure GOPstrongholds in the state early in the campaign. The remainder ofhis effort would be spent in rural areas, talking with citizens andtrying to shore up support there.

“That’s a big part of our campaign plan,” Barbour said.