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Bryant delivers fiscal conservative message

WESSON – Whether Democrat or Republican, Mississippi politiciansare all cut from similar molds, so Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is droppingthe words “liberal” and “conservative” and redefining thecombatants who butt heads annually in the statehouse.

On Bryant’s side are those who favor cost cutting and lowertaxes and wish to place power in the hands of the citizens, andopposing him are the “statists,” who seek to concentrate more powerand money in the hands of government.

“The greatest struggle in the Mississippi Legislature to me,being a fiscal conservative, is the argument between how much weshould spend and for what purpose,” Bryant said Monday night to agroup of students and teachers at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.”The statists always say, ‘We need more money!’ And we always say,’No, no, no – it is the individual who is important.'”

As the guest lecturer during the college’s third annual lectureseries, Bryant sought to instill confidence in students that thestate is poised for prosperity, challenging them to stay inMississippi after graduation and not flee to other states. But healso gave insight into the state’s political process and attemptedto set forth what he said was the truth about regularly occurringpolitical combat that splashes across the headlines statewide.

“I know this might shock you, but we make a lot of politicaldecisions,” Bryant said to laughter from the crowd. “If you’re inthe House of Representatives, one of your greatest desires is tomake the Senate look bad.”

As an example, Bryant referred to education funding, always ashowstopper in the Legislature and a budget item that he saidalways falls prey to politics.

When education officials visit their representatives andsenators to bang the drum for funding, promises that cannot bedelivered on are often made, he said. Then, politics heat up as abranch-to-branch blame game is begun.

“Those superintendents come up there and they’re told,’Absolutely! You need $40 million, let’s make it $50 million!'”Bryant said. “Then, when it doesn’t happen, they’re told, ‘I wantto give it to you, but that mean ole’ lieutenant governor won’t letme.’ Those superintendents say (their representatives) are the onlyones that love ’em. Welll, we love you, too – we love you so muchwe’re going to tell you the truth.”

After the speaking engagement, Bryant reiterated his example,predicting that education funding would likely be the major battlein the Legislature in 2010.

“We’re going to try to fully fund (the Mississippi AdequateEducation Program), but if we spend that money and the governorstill has to make the cuts, what good has it done?” he said. “It’sterribly unfair to those leaders in education to promise themsomething we can’t deliver.”

In his speech, Bryant went on to extol the state’s Rain DayFund, which he said was holding at around $340 million after $95million was spent this year. He criticized “statists” for theirconstant calls to spend the funds, saying he and like-minded stateleaders are trying to nurse the fund through the tough economictimes to recovery, which he predicted last until around 2012 andbeyond.

“Seven good years and seven lean years – ever since Joseph toldthe Pharaoh that, it’s been working,” Bryant said.

Mississippi’s economy will improve, Bryant said, because offiscal restraint and incentives to the people, like loweredregulations and targeted tax cuts. He praised this summer’s salestax holiday as a good incentive to spur the economy.

Bryant also talked up Mississippi’s growing relationship withChina, where a growing economy has allowed business between thestate and nation to flow. He referenced his and Gov. HaleyBarbour’s recent business trips to that nation.

If the state can stay financially secure and not bust likeCalifornia, he said more nations would join Mississippi in economicdevelopment.

“They’ll look at Mississippi and say, ‘They’re not broke, theydidn’t spend all their money and their bond rating is still prettyhigh,'” Bryant said. “We’ve got money in the bank and we’re gettingready for that line to open up – when those blocking backs open upthose holes and we run through and score. That’s what we’rebuilding toward.”