Legislature v. Musgrove: No time to panic
March 25, 2001
As the 2001 Session nears its final days, I believe the people of Mississippi expect our legislative leaders to make unselfish, realistic decisions in providing for the services we all have come to expect from state government.
A serious disagreement has arisen between the Legislature and the Governor's Office concerning the Fiscal Year 2002 budget.
We all are seeking the same result to provide for the people of our state. We just disagree on how to do that and at what cost.
The Legislature believes we must be realistic in our response to this economic downturn, but we should not over-react.
The plan recommended by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee already contains $245 million in cuts for Fiscal Year 2002, which begins in July. This plan has deeply stripped out equipment purchases, travel and other operating costs. We can adjust for lean operations.
But the next cuts would go beyond copy machines, vehicles and travel.
The next cuts are people. I do not believe we should cut vital services when conditions are not dire.
The next cuts would devastate and demoralize our educational programs at the K-12 level and in our community and junior colleges and universities all of which will experience substantial revenue reductions under the Legislature's plan.
These next cuts supported by the Governor will eliminate essential programs from human services and mental health to Medicaid, public safety, health care and economic development.
These additional cuts would cripple state government across the board and threaten the very integrity of public education, public health and public safety.
The Legislature would be irresponsible to take such extreme action, when we are not in a fiscal emergency.
Our budget professionals have worked very hard to give us their best advice on possible consequences of different courses of action. We are fortunate to have their experience, as well as the many years of valuable experience from our appropriations chairmen. They do not believe it is time to panic. I agree. Our state economy is still growing, just not as fast as we became accustomed to during the 1990s.
Economic good times and bad come in cycles. Experts tell us that Mississippi usually feels a downturn first and comes out of it first. And we have not factored in the positive effects from construction of the new Nissan plant in Madison County, possible federal income tax cuts or reductions in interest rates made by the Federal Reserve Board.
Our budget professionals assure us that even if our state growth rate is no higher than 2.5 percent, we already have well-established budget "safety nets." If we have an opportunity to avoid unnecessarily harsh measures, we should.
If the 2002 budget revenue projection is reduced to 1 percent, as the governor has urged, on top of 13.5 percent cuts already planned in the General Fund, an additional $180 million will need to be cut from the Fiscal Year 2002 budget. If those cuts must come from personnel, that may translate into 3,000 jobs, which would mean reduced services to our people.
Our appropriations chairmen and our budget professionals believe we can achieve our more conservative budget plans by the cost-cutting measures we already have established. If conditions worsen, the Legislature will be back in session next January and can consider what additional measures to take.
I believe we must govern conservatively on the side of caution especially when we are talking about people's lives. I believe it is time to move forward with caution and reserve drastic measures only for when they are absolutely necessary.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck serves as president of the Mississippi Senate.