Gov. Bryant’s proposed budget includes $7M for free community college

Published 9:04 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2017

(AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is recommending that the state spend $7 million in the coming year to provide free community college for an unspecified number of students.

The Republican says it would help people learn skills that could lead to jobs that pay good wages. Bryant suggested a similar, but smaller, scholarship program three years ago and legislators did not fund it.

“This program will position Mississippi for long-term growth and sustainability by not only increasing the number of people participating in the workforce, but also the number of people gaining meaningful careers,” Bryant wrote

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The community college proposal, called the Mississippi Works Scholars Program, is part of the governor’s proposed state budget for fiscal 2019, which begins July 1.

Bryant released his spending suggestions Wednesday, and legislative leaders will release theirs later this month. All legislators should get to vote by late March on about a $6 billion budget.

Bryant recommends no new money for most state government programs. He and legislative leaders recently adopted an estimate that shows state tax collections are expected to decrease slightly in the coming year. State economist Darrin Webb said Mississippi has experienced significantly slower economic growth than most other states since the Great Recession.

Among Bryant’s few suggested budget increases for the coming year are nearly $4.5 million to train more Highway Patrol troopers and $5.5 million for repair and renovation of some state buildings.

The governor recommends a 25 percent budget cut to Mississippi Public Broadcasting, which operates a TV network, a radio network and several educational services. MPB is a relatively small piece of the state budget. It receives about $6.1 million this year, and Bryant recommends nearly $4.6 million next year.

“MPB emerged at a time when television and radio options were drastically fewer than they are today,” Bryant’s budget presentation says. “Granting MPB more authority to market its airtime and recruit more financial support would be a good step toward it becoming financially independent of the state.”

Bryant also recommends a 15 percent cut to the Mississippi Arts Commission, another relatively small part of the total budget. The commission is receiving almost $1.6 million from the state this year. Bryant would cut that to nearly $1.4 million.

Bryant traveled to several states last year to campaign for Republican Donald Trump for president, and he has said he is advising the Trump administration about ways to eliminate some regulations on businesses.

“With great delight, I can report that, for the first time in eight years, we have a partner in the federal government that understands a nation and its people can flourish only when government gets out of the way, and intends to take precisely the money it needs to fund core functions, not a penny more,” Bryant wrote in his budget.