State can’t afford to fund new station

Published 9:41 am Thursday, April 21, 2016

When it comes to the state’s budget process, it’s easy to criticize legislators from afar. But when that process directly affects Brookhaven, things get a little more difficult.

The Legislature has approved a plan to borrow $250 million for various projects across the state. Included in that bill is $625,000 for a new fire station in Brookhaven.

Lawmakers also approved a plan to reduce taxes by $415 million. That strikes us as irresponsible, especially when state revenues are falling short of expectations and the governor is calling for budget cuts.

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Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday announced spending cuts for the current budget year because revenue is down. The cuts amount to less than one-half of 1 percent of spending for the year that ends June 30, and Bryant said only a few programs are exempt. Veterans’ affairs, the state Military Department, student loans, vocational and technical education and schools for the blind and deaf won’t be cut, The Associated Press reported.

But that means K-12 education funding will be cut, along with a host of other programs. Reducing taxes and borrowing money at the same time budget cuts are being made just doesn’t seem like sound policy.

As for the bond bill, the state’s Bond Commission must first sign off on the projects before it’s official. And Treasurer Lynn Fitch has expressed some worries about the bill.

She wrote this week that she’s concerned that Mississippi’s overall public debt load is too high, and noted lawmakers also agreed earlier this year to borrow $263 million to lure Continental AG to build a tire plant near Clinton, AP reported.

That’s a lot of borrowing in a time when state revenues continue to disappoint. But calling for the Bond Commission to reject projects that aren’t prudent could mean jeopardizing Brookhaven’s funding for a fire station.

Though it will be an unpopular opinion, we can’t champion the state borrowing money for special projects like the fire station in Brookhaven at a time when the governor is calling for budget cuts because of disappointing revenue. We understand the need for a new station is great, but now is not the time for the state to fund it — if it has to borrow the money to do so.

We don’t blame our local legislators for seeking the funding. It’s part of the reason we elected them. But the state doesn’t appear to be in a financial position to provide the funding in the next budget year. What’s best for Brookhaven doesn’t appear to be what’s best for the state.