No more political games – agree on state budget plan

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 11, 2005

As the 2005 legislative session drew to a close last week, wecould not help but muse that three months of partisan bickering andgrandstanding was an awful lot to endure as lawmakers ploddedtoward an eventual state budget.

If three months seemed too long, what about four or five?

We hoped the budget process, no matter how ugly, would result ina workable spending plan for the next fiscal year that meets theneeds of state agencies while putting adequate emphasis on fundingour state’s public schools.

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Our hopes were dashed late Wednesday when lawmakers – locked ina protracted battle of wills – gave up and went home.

In recent weeks, the House leadership has appeared most willingto meet the needs of Mississippi’s teachers and schoolchildren -and thereby the state’s future –┬áby pressing their Senatecolleagues and the governor to fund the Mississippi AdequateEducation Program as well as promised teacher pay raises. They haveproposed a cigarette tax hike to help cover the costs.

Gov. Haley Barbour, followed by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and the stateSenate, has dug in his heels, unwavering in his resolve to blockany new taxes.

Barbour’s “no new taxes” pledge notwithstanding, the state’spublic schools must be properly funded. In reality, a tax hike ofsome sort (ideally, coupled with spending cuts) is likely. Ourchildren deserve the best, and shortchanging schools is not thebest we can do.

It’s sad that our children’s future could be jeopardized overpolitics, but up to this point, that is exactly what hashappened.

Now Barbour will call a special session, during whichlegislators must revive the funding debate … only this time, eachday they are in session will cost Mississippi taxpayers anadditional $34,000.

Legislators – of both chambers and of both parties – mustresolve to return for the special session willing to put politicsaside and compromise on school funding, the major stumbling blockto a state budget. Only then can they demonstrate that the futureof our state – and of our children – is their priority.