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Barbour's budget would use half of rainy day money

JACKSON — Republican Gov. Haley Barbour is recommending 8 percent cuts for most Mississippi government agencies for the budget year that begins July 1.

Funding for elementary and secondary schools would be about the same as this year, while support for community colleges and universities would drop about 3.1 percent each under the budget proposal unveiled by Barbour at a news conference yesterday.

Barbour proposes spending nearly $5.5 billion overall — a figure that reflects hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money that’s disappearing.

Medicaid would receive more money, but not as much as the agency that runs the federal-state program is requesting. Hospitals and nursing homes would receive less for treating Medicaid patients, although physicians’ reimbursements would remain the same.

Budget cuts would affect a wide range of state services, from mental health treatment to public broadcasting. Barbour said taxpayers shouldn’t continue to subsidize radio and television programming.

Barbour proposes using about half the state’s financial reserves, leaving about $185 million that he said could help fill some budget gaps in the future. He said he’s against increasing taxes.

Revenue is expected to be weak as a slow economic recovery continues.

“I do not intend to leave my successor financially in the kind of budget shape I was in when I came here,” said Barbour, who begins his final year as governor in January and acknowledged yesterday that he’s considering running for president in 2012.

When Barbour started his first term in 2004, the state was spending hundreds of millions of dollars more in recurring expenses than it had in recurring revenue. Budget writers had dipped into sources of “one-time” money to pay for government, and Barbour took office in the middle of that fiscal year. They’ve taken similar steps the past few years, taking some money from the state’s financial reserves and relying on federal stimulus cash approved by the Democratic-controlled Congress in 2009.

Barbour said yesterday that universities and community colleges with higher graduation rates should be better-funded than those with lower rates. He said Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi have the highest graduation rates among the state’s eight institutions of higher learning.

He also recommended eliminating state funding for community college athletics. Sports programs at the two-year schools receive about $3 million from the state. They’d be left with about $20 million from other sources, and Barbour said local governments or optional student fees could make up for the loss of state support.

“In a time when resources are scarce, it is difficult to justify spending tax dollars on the field of play when the classroom is in need,” Barbour said in a written presentation.

Eric Clark, a former lawmaker who’s director of the community college system, said sports programs at the community colleges should be funded “fairly, comparably to high school athletics and university athletics.”

Clark also said measuring graduation rates would be an incomplete way to judge community colleges’ success. He said some students start at community colleges before moving to universities, while others only intend to take a few classes.

“There are thousands and thousands of students whose lives we make better who never graduate and have no intention of graduating,” Clark said.

Legislators typically adopt only a portion of any governor’s budget proposals. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant — who’s expected to run for governor next year — said he expects “strong consideration” of Barbour’s ideas. Some Democratic lawmakers say they want to spend more on education than Republicans are suggesting.

The 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee is still working on its own bipartisan set of spending proposals for fiscal 2012. All 122 House members and 52 senators are scheduled to vote on a budget by early April.


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