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All sides of funding debate owe us specific answers

In case our state lawmakers haven’t yet noticed, we offer thisgentle reminder: time is running out.

Already, the House and Senate have extended the session toaccommodate their inability to compromise on a budget to fund stategovernment in the next fiscal year, and by most accounts the lightat the end of the tunnel is nowhere in sight. There is even talk ofadjourning the session without a budget and coming back to do it ina later special session.

The main sticking point in the budget negotiations is how and atwhat level to fund the state’s K-12 schools, with the Housedemanding “full funding” of $1.9 billion for the MississippiAdequate Education Program along with teacher pay raises while theSenate prefers a $1.8 billion MAEP funding level and has at leastdiscussed delaying the educators’ raises.

Add to the mix a governor who has drawn a line in the sand,steadfastly refusing to agree to any new taxes, and it’s littlewonder budget negotiations have slowed to a snail’s pace.

In recent weeks, school officials, House and Senate members andthe governor all have traded barbs, each accusing another of beinginflexible and threatening our state’s future prosperity in one wayor another. The display, at times, has reeked of showmanship morethan statesmanship. Yet, lost in it all has been a clear accountingof specific needs, available resources and a feasible plan to fusethe two.

As the curtain is about to fall on the 2005 legislative session,the political posturing must end. It’s time for all involved to getserious and get specific.

Educators, tell lawmakers and taxpayers what your needs are.Plainly state your case for a nearly 15 percent funding increaseover the previous year, as state revenue grows at a slower rate.And distinguish between wants and needs so the money may betargeted first where it is most needed.

House members, fully funding public education is an admirableand desirable goal, so tell us where the money will come from. Inaddition to a higher cigarette tax, what fees and taxes must beraised? And, just as importantly, where can cuts be made elsewherein state government?

Gov. Barbour and senators, you say the schools can get by withless than they’ve requested. Please tell us how. Detail what cutscan be made and where.

The political posturing is tiresome. Mississippi’s childrendeserve better. We are nearly at the point where educationalprograms could be cut, facilities shut down and teachers leftholding pink slips. Answers – specific answers – are needednow.