Barbour, Bryant announce agendas

On Monday, Barbour addressed the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Capitol Press Corps luncheon. His priorities for 2009 are protecting and adding jobs, completing Katrina rebuilding, a “fair, permanent, sustainable funding solution” for Medicaid, Voter ID, workforce development and job training, and a health insurance exchange.

Barbour spent the bulk of his time addressing the budget. “Declining revenue and recession will be the biggest issue we’re dealing with in the upcoming legislative session,” Barbour said, calling previous cuts “mild” and warning of cuts in all departments and agencies. Barbour warned of collections at 3.5 to 5 percent under revenue estimates.

State law requires the governor to make cuts to balance the budget, but prohibits him from cutting one agency greater than 5 percent until first cutting every agency by 5 percent. Court ordered mandatory spending cannot be cut, but Barbour hopes to manage the remaining budget within that 5 percent margin.

Barbour never mentioned cutting education funding. But with K-12 and higher education funding together accounting for over half of Mississippi’s annual budget, there is little mathematical possibility of education escaping cuts. If you assume the most optimistic revenue projection of 3.5 percent below estimate, and reserve half the budget for education, then you double that initial cut to 7 percent which breaks the 5-percent threshold requiring equitable cuts. To prevent education cuts, then, the Legislature will have to remove that threshold (and thus impose larger cuts on law enforcement, economic development, and health care), or creatively make their own government downsizings.

Barbour noted that during this recession, Mississippi will need to dip into its own rainy day fund, which he credited the Legislature with restoring in recent years. Because of the length and depth of the recession, Barbour said we will need to use the fund over the next four years, and so we can not deplete it by more than a quarter of its current level a year.

Barbour is in his final term as governor; he seeks conservative executive governance. Bryant doesn’t hide his future political ambitions; he promotes conservative legislative priorities.

Bryant released his priorities list last week calling it his “2009 Common Sense Legislative Agenda.”

Bryant’s education proposals seek the full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) and innovative policies: enhanced charter school legislation, health care savings funds for teachers, allowing retired teachers to return to the classroom in critical areas with pay in addition to retirement, and removing underperforming school board members (elected or appointed).

He seeks passage of The Child Protection Act of 2009 that stiffens penalties for statutory rape laws. It regulates abortion practices when terminating pregnancies resulting from the violation of those laws. It would also hold any person who assists a minor in obtaining an abortion without parental consent civilly liable. Last year this measure threatened the leadership of the House of Representatives when despite being held in committee it was nearly forced to a floor vote. A deal allowed the committee process to save face and the bill to be reconsidered this year.

Bryant seeks to spur the economy through tax cuts: income tax reductions, phase out of inventory tax, increase homestead exemptions, and reduce by half the sales tax purchases of forestry equipment.

His ethics reform package seeks to remove the legislature’s exemption from the Open Records Act, restrict state agencies from hiring contract lobbyists in order to obtain state funds and prohibit the acceptance of campaign contributions by legislators during the regular or any special session.

Bryant also seeks to implement Voter ID, create a Senate Drug Policy Committee, and enact stricter penalties against illegal immigrants.

Brian Perry
Madison County Journal