Capital debate: More spending in Musgrove plan
Dec. 13, 2000
Just a few years ago, a tax cut proposal was turned down by the Mississippi Legislature. It would have given a few bucks back to the people who worked to make the money in the first place. The tax cut was determined to be a "cost" state government could not afford.
In retrospect, the action may have been a good thing because it kept the state from "spending" money it now does not have thanks to the fact that revenue collections are trailing projections that were too rosy to begin with.
Despite his own acknowledgment there is not enough money to fund all of his special interests, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has nonetheless unveiled a $3.6 billion state budget for fiscal year 2002 that is $87 million more than a spending plan proposed by Mississippi lawmakers. Musgrove wants to draw $50 million from the so-called "rainy day" fund, the 2 percent of state revenues set aside for serious emergencies.
Reason to wonder
Musgrove is either very optimistic that revenue collections will catch up with spending or he is in denial that a budget grinch has arrived. It makes one wonder, especially since the governor himself ordered spending cuts of $50 million in the 2001 budget, why he doesn't continue on the logical trail when revenue collections clash with projections:
What's gotten into the governor is a determination to fund the first year of a teacher pay raise, no matter how much collections fall short of projections. We won't argue Mississippi school teachers need more money. Our schools also need more accountability to the parents and taxpayers who are the ultimate source of education funding in this state and nation.
But schools aren't the only need, officials argue. State prisons will run out of beds next year as the high cost of incarceration goes through the roof. A generous settlement is being negotiated in the Ayers desegregation case, at least it seems generous to many taxpayers. A total of $8 million has been paid to lawyers in the Ayers case, not a dime of which will ever be used to build a new science or math lab, a law school or engineering school at Jackson State, or to pay university professors more money.
The cost of economic development continues to escalate as Musgrove builds his new bureaucracy the Mississippi Development Authority and equips it to seek new, higher skilled, higher paying jobs for Mississippians. Economic development does not come cheaply Musgrove wants to hike MDA's operations by $10 million but experts tell us this is an "investment" in the future. We hope, indeed, believe this is true.
The state budget simply will not support all the needs, so Musgrove has issued his set of priorities. Unfortunately, there is no indication, yet, that Musgrove seriously intends to limit the growth of state government, except perhaps in a few out-of-favor agencies.
Already in the hallowed halls of the state capitol in Jackson there is talk of increasing gas taxes, not to mention upping the cost of car tags and inspection fees.
This is a path of diminishing returns. It threatens to wipe out any economic gains made in the last decade by hard-working Mississippi families who would face higher costs of the very things necessary in their daily lives.
We encourage Mississippi lawmakers to find ways to reduce the cost of state government and to hold the line on taxes. And, we again encourage the governor to stay the course he seemed to be on earlier this year and come forward with a proposal that truly cuts spending.