Long-term budget solution for state, schools essential

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 16, 2005

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Wednesday to finish – we hope- what should have been done weeks, if not months, ago.

Gov. Haley Barbour has called the Legislature back to Jacksonfor a special session to pass a state budget for the new fiscalyear that starts June 1, a task the House and Senate failed toaccomplish during the regular session. With the clock ticking andmere days left, it is imperative that our legislators forego thepolitical grandstanding they seem to love and arrive in Jacksonready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Thus far, the House and Senate (the latter marching lock stepwith Gov. Barbour’s no-new-taxes pledge) have been able to agree onlittle when it comes to the budget. During this week’s specialsession, they simply have no choice.

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Funding our state’s K-12 schools – the main sticking point inthe budget – is essential. Through a combination of tax and feeincreases (as the House has suggested) and spending cuts (asBarbour and the Senate favor), the state must find a way to coverpromised teacher pay raises, fund the Mississippi AdequateEducation Program, maintain the exemplary specialized programs atthe Mississippi School of the Arts and the Mississippi School forMathematics and Science and improve our state’s public schoolsoverall.

Higher taxes won’t be popular, and neither will program cuts,but that’s the nature of compromise. It’s a give-and-takeproposition.

Where there is no room for compromise is on the use of one-timemoney to fund ongoing expenses. That Band-Aid approach to budgetingis a tried and true – but dangerous – legislative tradition.

With the announcement last week of the state’s $100 millionsettlement with MCI (the former Clinton-based WorldCom), lawmakerswill, no doubt, be tempted to tap into the money, fund schools andother programs and pronounce the case closed. Attorney General JimHood last week so much as invited them to do so.

That would be a serious and irresponsible mistake.

One-time money is helpful, but it’s no way to fund the statebudget. The MCI settlement money may be a cushion, but it iscertainly no solution. Once that money is gone, it’s gone, butunless lawmakers address the underlying problems, the budget woeswill remain.