Fixing state budget will not be an easy task

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 1, 2004

The honeymoon is over, and budget lines are being drawn. Gov.Haley Barbour’s “Operation Streamline” just ran into House SpeakerBilly McCoy’s “Fiscal Stability” bill, and the House and the Senateare set on a collision course to decide the state’s fiscalfuture.

Gov. Barbour’s plan, with full backing of the Senate, proposesto cut the state’s $709 million budget deficit in half bycontrolling expenses, eliminating jobs and cutting state employeeraises. Under Barbour’s plan public education, not counting teacherpay raises, stands to lose $162 million of which $2.06 millioncomes from the four counties that make up The DAILY LEADER’Scirculation area.

Speaker McCoy’s plan, which passed the House Thursday, fullyfunds K-12 schools along with teacher pay raises, state health careand more. The speaker funds those programs through a series of feeand license increases, a redirection of funds (such as schoolsupplies), oil and gas severance taxes and other sources.

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At first blush one might say the Speaker has solved the deficitproblem and shown the Governor just who knows what about stategovernment — let’s vote yea and send the Legislature home.

The Governor’s method is a ‘tough love’ type of bill. While abit hard to swallow, it does cut state spending. State employeeswill “feel the pain,” but it gets the state out of its deficit holewithin two years.

The Speaker’s plan also cuts some state spending, but it usesalmost $254 million in one-time funds, moves another $34.9 millionfrom one state pocket to another and plays games with the fiscal2005 revenue estimates. All-in-all, it’s a ‘hocus pocus’ of sortsthat only avoids the problem for this year.

State teachers, who initially cheered the Speaker’s plan, beganto rethink the idea as they realized teachers would lose $15.9million in school supply funds. Effectively, teachers would receive$100 to buy teaching supplies instead of the $500 they currentlyreceive. That’s not a happy situation for teachers who already dipinto their personal pockets to buy supplies needed in theclassroom.

While the Governor’s plan puts a major dent into the state’sbudget deficit, it transfers responsibility to taxpayers at homewho are stuck with the choice of cutting schools or raisingproperty taxes.

Gov. Barbour is on solid ground trying to solve the state’sbudget deficit. Speaker McCoy is also on solid ground with fundingthe state’s public school and health care system. The problem is,public education is the pawn in a very serious chess game.

One way or another we have to find ways to trim the fat of stategovernment. These plans show that, at some point tough, decisionshave to be made.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to