January 22, 2010
Barbour Vows More Cuts, Private Prisons
Unhappy that the Mississippi House of Representatives turned back his move for more budget power, Gov. Haley Barbour today promised to slash most of the state budgets more than 8 percent. The House refused to follow the Senate’s lead and grant him power to discriminately cut 10 percent of the budget.
I asked the legislative budget committee to change state law under which I am required to make budget cuts, to give me more flexibility. … I appreciate that the Senate passed a law to give me more flexibility to cut up to 10 percent. That would have allowed some relief. The House chose not to do that and proposed spending $110 million more after we’ve spent $115 million,” Barbour told reporters. “To comply with state law I am now ordering cuts that will bring the total cuts (this year) up to 8.193 percent for all departments and agencies, except for a small handful that are exempt.”
Barbour said the 8.193 percent equals to a cut of $437.5 million in general funds and general fund equivalents, including education enhancement funds, budget contingency funds and special funds. Most of the agencies have already been cut 5 percent, so the new cuts reflect an additional 3.193 percent slice.
The governor explained that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a program to steer state money to low-revenue school districts, will suffer an additional cut of $66.1 million on top of a previous cut of $103.5 million, amounting to a total cut of 169.6 million.
The state’s higher-education budget for universities will suffer a total cut of $63.9 million after adding previous cuts, while community colleges will see an additional $8 million in cuts, amounting to a total cut of $20.5 million.
Barbour currently has the power to cut up to 5 percent of an agency’s budget, and any cut above 5 percent must be applied equally to every agency. Barbour wanted the power to spare the Department of Corrections cuts greater than five percent.House members argued that handing out budget cuts between agencies is the power of the Legislature, not one governor, and refused the grant Barbour the additional authority.
Parent’s Campaign Executive Director Nancy Loome said MAEP fared better under these cuts than they would have under Barbour’s preference.
“House leadership asked the governor for his plan were he given additional authority to make more cuts, and that information showed an 8.7 percent cut to K-12 education, so this is actually less than what we would have seen had the Senate’s bill been passed by the House,” Loome said. “As painful as the cuts are, it’s still an improvement.”
Barbour encouraged schools to tap their budget reserve funds, which averaged about $500 million at the beginning of the fiscal year. He also urged districts to use about $133 million in interest gained from timber sales on 16th section land.
Those two figures represent the total at the beginning of the fiscal year, however. Schools have already been drawing from the funds for the last six months in reaction to steep budget cuts Barbour imposed earlier this fiscal year. In any case, not all schools have an equal portion of these funds.
“About 20 percent of the budget-reserve fund lies in three districts: Desoto, Rankin and Madison-all of which represent less than a percent of school districts in the state,” Loome said, adding that the argument also holds true for the 16th Section land fund. “Some districts literally have less than $100 in (their 16th Section land fund), while others have considerably more,” she said.
In addition to education, Barbour’s favored Department of Corrections will see a massive $23.3 million in additional cuts totaling $26.5 million.
Barbour said the state would try to compensate for cuts to Corrections by using more for-profit private prisons in lieu of government correction facilities.
“I can’t promise the cuts end here,” Barbour added, “but we’re trying to be prudent and make the cuts necessary.