Bully Bloc Message Regarding Initiative 42

Jackson, MS — As you know, Initiative 42 will be on the November ballot next week. As Bully Bloc’s mission is to support Mississippi State University and higher education in Mississippi, our Executive Committee wanted to inform our friends of the implications for Mississippi State University which could result from its passage.

You may be aware that K-12 already receives the biggest share of the state budget. If Proposition 42 passes, MSU would take a big financial hit as well as the other universities and our community colleges.

In case you missed it, we have included President Keenum’s remarks at a general faculty meeting regarding the consequences of a 7.8% cut in MSU’s state funds. State policy makers asked him to detail these cuts in anticipation that the initiative might pass and be implemented immediately.

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“Leading state budget makers, such as House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, have said that passage of Initiative 42 in November could require the immediate transfer of around $200 million into the K-12 system, and that would require other agencies to either raise fees or cut spending by that amount. Initiative 42, as you know, would amend the state constitution to require full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. An alternative amendment proposed by the Legislature, 42-A, would give more discretion to the Legislature. Voters could also opt for no change at all to the state constitution.

Let me say for the record that I am in favor of more funding for education—for K?12, but also for community colleges and all of our public universities. What I vehemently oppose are the draconian cuts in support for higher education that I am being told would be associated with passage of Initiative 42.

In anticipation that 42 might pass and that it would be implemented right away, universities and others were directed last month to summarize the actions we would take in the event of a 7.8 percent reduction in state funds.

Based on the current year’s budget, that would amount to $31 million for IHL general support and another $27 million for separately funded programs across the IHL system. Mississippi State’s share would be almost $8 million in general support and about $6.5 million more from the Ag Division.

At Mississippi State, such a reduction in general support could translate into a hefty 13 percent tuition increase if we addressed the problem that way, imposing a heavy burden on students and their families.

It would also blunt our long-term efforts to increase the proportion of Mississippians with college degrees—a measure by which we rank near the bottom, nationally.

More likely, we would combine some level of tuition increase with reductions in personnel, services, and programs. From 2009 to 2013, our state support declined by about $14 million. That was a big challenge, but working together, we instituted a variety of efficiencies and innovations to adjust and survived with our quality intact.

Many people, faculty and others, made sacrifices to achieve that, working longer and harder and making do with less, but remaining optimistic and dedicated to our mission.

Over the past three years, with improving state appropriations, we have almost climbed out of that hole, but we’re still, if you will, “under water” in terms of state support. Our state funding today is less than it was when I arrived here nearly seven years ago.

And during that time we we’ve seen a 3,000-student increase in enrollment, a significant expansion of our research program, and growth in outreach and service. We’re doing a whole lot more, but we’re doing it with less state support.

So obviously an $8 million cut at this point could undo a lot of our progress. The effects would be felt in areas from campus maintenance and repair, to service to business and industry, to teaching loads and course offerings.

The Ag Division would be particularly hard hit. Higher tuition is not an option that MAFES, Extension, or the Forest and Wildlife Research Center can turn to. That is also not a realistic option for the College of Veterinary Medicine, if we are to maintain competitiveness and accreditation.

For the Ag units, severe budget cuts would most likely translate into personnel reductions. The MSU Extension Service, for example, which devotes 95 percent of its budget to salaries and benefits, could lose 40 positions.

I don’t mean to alarm you, but I would be derelict in failing to share with you the potential scenario outlined by state officials. Of course the Legislature could, theoretically, cover a new $200 million demand by raising taxes, except that they won’t. They’ve been clear about that.

It is also possible that Initiative 42, if passed, could be implemented over a number of years, rather than immediately, and proponents insist that is what they want to see happen. The actual wording of the amendment, however, does not mention a phased-in approach, and that’s not something we could necessarily count on.

The prudent course, for the state as a whole and for our university, would seem to be, as it often is, to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, and we are working hard to be prepared for whatever the coming year brings.”

10/28/15