Barbour sticks with plan to cut spending

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 19, 2004

Over the years, I have had numerous invitations to have lunchwith the governor. With the exception of Kirk Fordice, Mississippigovernors of the past have been eager to break bread with newspaperfolks.

Hitting his first 100 days in office, Gov. Haley Barbour is noexception. The invitation came via a telephone call a few weeksago, and the lunch date was set.

In past visits, linen tablecloths and freshly-polishedsilverware, along with special china, adorned the Governor’sMansion dining room.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Haley Barbour’s invitation was a bit less formal. In fact, theycalled it a brown bag lunch and suggested I bring my own if Iwanted to eat. Instead of the elegance of the Governor’s Mansiondining room, a small conference room in the Wolfolk Office buildingwas substituted.

Barbour is a master at the unsaid. Few details miss hisattention, and the same can be said for the messages those detailsare suppose to send.

A brown bag lunch on a conference room table was meant to send amessage. Bringing my own was the exclamation point! This guy isbent and determined to trim the state budget and willing to dowhatever it takes to accomplish that goal.

Our conversation went quickly from those first 100 days to themajor issues at hand – education funding and tort reform.

On tort reform, the governor was clear that he is going to doeverything in his power — including special session(s), with anemphasis on the plural — to correct lawsuit abuses still plaguingthe state.

On education, too, he is very clear.

He thinks too much money is being spent and cuts are in order.While he is willing to increase funding for higher education, hefirmly believes K-12 can make do with $160 million less.

When pressed on the issue of where local districts should cutcosts, Barbour brought up a recent study by the Mississippi Centerfor Public Policy. It finds that as a percentage, teacher salarieshave actually decreased over the past 10 years whilenon-instructional expenses have increased.

Pressed a bit further, and the dreaded “C” word came out.Consolidation.

“Governor,” I said, “are you suggesting consolidation of pubicschools as a way to cut education funding?”

A grin came across his face, and he said “No!”

But he went on to suggest school districts should consider aconsolidation of similar expense areas. Transportation or schoolbus systems was one example. He suggested that city and countyschool districts combine their resources by eliminating duplicateservices.

Obviously troubled by the education fight, the governorsuggested that one solution might be the Revenue Estimate Committeemeeting that was forth coming. It has subsequently been held.

Although promoting cost cutting, the governor admitted apositive increase in the estimates would be a welcomed relief.Catching himself as those words slipped out of his mouth, he added”honest” increase.

Since our lunch, tort reform has all but been killed in thelegislature, and Barbour has announced his intention to call thenecessary special session(s). Education funding is at loggerheadsbut the governor has received a $45 million increase in revenueestimates, which he publicly has suggested should be spent oneducation.

This past week, pink slips have been passed out to teachers, andboth sides of the education debate are pointing fingers saying theother is “grandstanding.”

As this debate continues, my brown bag lunch may have been morethan symbolic.

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