Musgrove v. Legislature: Educators in middle
March 21, 2001
Mississippi's eight institutions of higher learning and the state's community college system are caught in the middle of a tempestuous political struggle between Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and the leadership of the Mississippi Legislature.
At stake for the educators is the future of their state funding from the Legislature and the future of their political relationship with the governor.
It's a no-win situation.
At this juncture, it appears that the IHL presidents are going to choose sides with the Mississippi Legislature in this budget crisis based on two realities: one, the Legislature holds the constitutional power of the purse strings now and in the future; and two, Musgrove's call for immediate budget estimate revision translates into immediate misery for the eight institutions of higher learning.
The politics of the situation are clear the Legislature's estimate of revenue growth for fiscal 2002 is 3.7 percent. Lawmakers say that the current fiscal year's revenue growth is rolling along at 2.1 percent. Musgrove counters by saying that a substantial portion of that 2.1 percent growth is "one-time" non-recurring revenue and that "real" revenue growth in the current fiscal year is closer to one percent.
But closer to the bone of the matter is this concept if lawmakers don't adjust the revenue estimates downward, Musgrove will be charged with the political responsibility of making massive budget cuts next year should shortfalls take place. Musgrove doesn't want to shoulder that responsibility. Lawmakers don't want the political responsibility for shifting revenue estimates downward right now and triggering immediate cuts in state government and in public secondary and higher education venues.
Because Gov. Musgrove was famous for doing business on "funny money" revenue projections while a state senator and while serving as lieutenant governor, legislative leaders see no reason to take any bullets for the governor during the current budget crisis.
Of particular concern to lawmakers is the notion that Musgrove who in essence bet the come in forcing the Legislature to swallow a massive, six-year phased teacher pay increase last year and fought the 5 percent revenue growth trigger for the raises included in the legislation by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and the rest of the legislative leadership now seems to object to the Legislature betting the come on next year's revenue projections.
Seems that Musgrove thinks vague revenue projections are fine when he's stepping forward to take credit for enacting a teacher pay increase, but he can't accept vague revenue projections when those vagaries might well force him to have to make tough budget cuts next year.
He wants the Legislature to be fiscally responsible he claims in estimating state revenue, except when the teacher pay increase plan is on the table.
Enter the IHL presidents and the community college presidents. Both the lawmakers and the governor are putting the squeeze on these educators to take sides in this battle.
Sense of dread
The IHL presidents are stepping forward to side with the Legislature in this battle, but they do so with a sense of dread as they know in doing so they are incurring the wrath of a governor with a reputation for vindictiveness for any perceived as a political enemy of his administration.
Musgrove has promised to veto every general fund appropriation until the Legislature revises its revenue estimates downward. The Legislature appears ready to override Musgrove's vetoes, but that vote will be close.
That's the reason IHL and community college presidents are caught in the middle of a squeeze play on this question.
The bottom line is that the Mississippi Legislature has grown tired of serving as a backdrop for the Musgrove administration. They saw Musgrove ignore legislative initiatives like the 5 percent revenue growth trigger on the teacher pay raise bill and are angry that Musgrove now wants to dump the political fallout for budget shortfalls they all saw coming last year onto the lawmakers rather than taking his share of the political blame.
The votes to override Musgrove's threatened vetoes appear to be in place. Musgrove's decision to attack Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Jack Gordon is one that seems particularly personal since the governor didn't have the guts at the same time to attack House Appropriations Committee chairman Charlie Capps. Gordon and Capps are the key players in this fight and they have been asked by many IHL leaders to stick with the current revenue estimates if for no other reason than to delay the pain of additional budget cuts that would be made immediate if the revenue estimates are dropped.
How can Musgrove hold a straight face when attacking the Legislature on doing business on inflated projections after his stand on the teacher pay hike?
Musgrove has consistently refused to allow the Legislature to use revenue growth projections in making commitments on teacher pay raises, but he now wants those projections to be made more "honest" when applied to the rest of state government.
It's a double-standard that the Mississippi Legislature will not allow to go unchallenged. What's sad is that our university presidents should not be made political props to either side in this little governmental drama.
Looking for Gordon or Capps to budge? Look elsewhere, friend. It's not happening.
Sid Salter is publisher/editor of the Scott County Times in Forest. E-mail him at salternews.aol.com.