Musgrove changes budget tune
May 6, 2001
One gets to the point in listening to politicians talk about the twin goals of holding the line on taxes and improving public education in this state that the rhetoric begins to run together.
Both Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and the Mississippi Legislature fell over themselves getting out of town after the 2001 regular session of the Legislature in order to be able to make the claim of "no new taxes" in concert with keep the promises to state public school teachers of a six-year, phased-in pay raise package.
With only about $20 million on the table in this year's phase of the teacher pay bill, the Legislature was able to make good on that promise after a fashion by simply shuffling funds after Musgrove twice cut the budget a budget badly flawed because it "bet the come" on state revenue that most lawmakers knew would not be there when the budget was approved.
Where Musgrove committed political suicide in the minds of many lawmakers was after this past session of revenue shortfall, budget cuts, gubernatorial vetoes and legislative overrides, Musgrove all of a sudden departed from his tried-and-trued method of "creative" budgeting while he served in the state Senate as a the former lieutenant governor and demanded legislative submission of a budget that address the shortfall ahead of time rather than forcing the governor to make the painful budget cuts that will almost certainly necessary down the road.
Politically, Musgrove doesn't want to face the public again with a bloody budget meat ax in his hand. The Legislature doesn't wasn't to face the lobbyists who claim their budgets were cut or under-funded in the appropriation process.
One point lost in the shuffle when one considers the standoff in terms other that Musgrove's political whim is the fact that stepping away from usually optimistic legislative budgets would force state agencies and state colleges universities take those future budget hits now in the midst of the current fiscal year's cuts to produce in reality a double disaster for state agencies and institutions of higher learning.
How bizarre that the State College Board is batting around over a half billion-dollar settlement in the 30-year Ayers higher education desegregation case and state teachers are holding fast to the legislative and executive branch promises of the largest teacher pay raise in state history at a time when the educational institutions at all levels elementary, secondary, community college, college and universities and professional schools are enduring multiple-years budget cuts.
Minimum Foundation program obligations aren't being met. Educational Enhancement program obligations are being half-met. The burden of maintaining quality schools is quickly being handed down from federal funding to state funding and in recent years, to local funding.
No new taxes from Ronnie and the boys and girls down at the State Capitol?
That's a laugh …
Tuition is going up across the board in IHL and in the state's community college. East Central Community College in Decatur alone is seeking a 20 percent tuition hike.
Many school districts are asking the maximum millage increase allowed by law for school taxes for the second consecutive year statewide.
Do we really want to turn higher education funding into a "use" tax in Mississippi. In the poorest state in the union, hiking tuition is the worst way to attract students into the higher education system.
While funding state-based scholarships and other enhancements for the best and brightest students, raising tuition simply increases the pressure on middle and lower-class Mississippi families to give their children a ticket out and a leg up to a better way of life through earning an education.
Let's make things clear Gov. Musgrove, the leadership and the rank-and-file of the Mississippi Legislature indeed did raise taxes on education this session. When it's time to write property tax checks and tuition checks, Mississippi taxpayers should remember those who helped load the wagon.
Barring a jumpstart in the state's economy one which would produce the incredible revenue stream of the mid-1990s in state government the mess hits the fan next year as the serious money comes due on the phased teacher pay raise at a time when money is tight across the board.
Clearly, the path for Musgrove and the Legislature is tough. They face the prospects more revenue shortfalls, more budget cuts, the probability of state program or service reduction or elimination the a combination of those strategies AND the dread "T" word.
The knot in which Musgrove is now entangled is the fact that as a legislator he reveled in the Legislature operating from these optimistic, "bet-the-come" budgets."
As governor, he's changed his tune and wants a "full disclosure" budget.
Sid Salter is publisher/editor of the Scott County Times in Forest. E-mail him at salternews.aol.com.