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Barbour recovery agenda seems right on the money

Painting a stark contrast to what we have sometimes seen in aneighboring state in the weeks since Hurricane Katrina, Mississippiofficials continue to demonstrate leadership, even through toughtimes.

Working together with their national counterparts as well asprivate industry, Mississippi’s state and local officials haveresponded to the disaster and are working hard to craft a recoveryblueprint. Gov. Haley Barbour called lawmakers into a specialsession last week and presented them with an ambitious andworthwhile agenda as they to began to address the seeminglyunending needs Katrina left behind.

High on the list is getting the Gulf Coast’s tourism industry -and, specifically, its casinos – back up and running as soon aspossible. Because of the revenue the gaming industry generates andthe vast number of south Mississippi residents it employees, thecasinos’ swift and successful recovery is vital to Mississippi’sinterests.

However, the needs run much deeper, and Barbour’s well-preparedagenda acknowledges that. His plan addresses the reality thatHurricane Katrina must not be allowed to deliver the fatal blow toMississippi’s economy, its educational gains or the day-to-dayoperations of its government.

The governor has proposed state-backed loan programs for bothsmall businesses and homeowners who lost much or all of theirassets. This will ensure the necessary cash flow to help thingsslowly return to some semblance of business as usual, though thatmost certainly will be a long time coming.

Barbour also has asked lawmakers to make it easier for affectedschools and districts to borrow, repay and manage their financesand meet (or delay meeting) accreditation standards during thistrying time. Mississippi’s public schools have made great stridesin recent years, and such provisions should help keep schoolsafloat and keep vast numbers of students from falling through thecracks.

Other aspects of Barbour’s agenda address the state’s judicialsystem, income tax exemptions and extensions and, of course, casinoregulations. The specifics remain for the Legislature to work out,but the governor has put together a framework that makes sense.

We are well aware that cuts in some programs are likely to benecessary to pay for this massive rebuilding effort; however,lawmakers should do everything possible to make sure that necessarygovernment operations are not woefully underfunded by trimmingthose areas that can best withstand it and protecting others wherepossible.

All in all, Barbour’s plan for rebuilding Mississippi seems awell-planned springboard to recovery.