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Currie forecasts spending restraint

The availability of using one-time money to fill budget holes issoon coming to an end and state spending will need to be reduced asa result, an area lawmaker said Wednesday.

“We’ve got our spending so high that we cannot sustain it,” saidDistrict 92 Rep. Becky Currie while speaking Wednesday to theBrookhaven Kiwanis Club.

Currie said the state’s budget had ballooned from $3.8 billionin 2005 to $5.8 billion now. She attributed the growth to one-timemoney that has come into the state from several sources, includingthe federal stimulus program, the tobacco settlement and HurricaneKatrina.

“You hate to think something so tragic brought in such bigbucks, but it did,” said Currie in the reference to the 2005hurricane.

That fact the one-time money will not be available in years tocome and the current economy will mean hard choices ahead forlawmakers as they plan future budgets, Currie said. She indicateddifficult times are looming.

“We’ve lost money every month this year,” Currie said.

In the two months since the state’s fiscal year started, theRepublican representative said state revenue was down $85 million.She credited the popularity of the recent federal “Cash forClunkers” program for spurring automobile sales and lessening theblow, but added that the program has ended and sales may not be asrobust in the months ahead.

Gov. Haley Barbour recently announced 5 percent cuts in statespending plans.

“By law, that’s all he can do and he’s done it across the board,including education,” Currie said.

Currie said 62 percent of the state’s budget goes to educationand another 25 percent is used for Medicaid.

“Everything else comes out of the rest,” Currie said.

Currie was supportive of education and workforce trainingefforts, with the goal of preventing industry from leaving andbringing some back. However, she said Mississippi must be preparedin the years ahead for late-arriving economic effects that much ofthe rest of the nation has already been feeling.

“Our children deserve a good education. We’re just going to haveto tighten our belts,” Currie said.

While not wanting to bring a message full of “doom and gloom,”Currie said the state is “still open for business” and that itsbond rating remains high and other business climate indicators aregood. She said the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which was envisioned tohelp the state weather tough economic times, has turned out to beone of the “best things we could have ever done.”

Currie said the state spending will have to be prioritized andhandled in a good budget way. That includes cutting taxes andreducing spending.

“There’s no other way to do it,” Currie said.

Regarding the possibility of the need for further spending cuts,Currie was asked how that would be carried out. She said a specialsession would be needed for lawmaker action, but she questionedwhether Barbour would call one due to House and Senate differencesin the approach to the budget.

Also in the area of education, Currie was asked about thestate’s 152 school districts and what could be done to reduce thosecosts. While not mentioning consolidation by name, Currie said theissue is one that garners her a lot of e-mail and calls from herconstituents.

“The county schools don’t want you to touch them,” Curriesaid.

But looking at the issue from a statewide perspective, Curriementioned a school district in north Mississippi that has asuperintendent and administrative staff for 300 students. Currieexpressed support for efforts to curb those kinds of costs.

“It’s a huge expense, and we’ve got to do better,” Curriesaid.

Currie lamented the state’s 50th ranking in several areas andsought improvement.

“Let’s try 49 for a while… get off the bottom,” Curriesaid.