Lawmakers want Barbour to divulge stimulus spending

JACKSON — Several lawmakers say it’s been difficult to get information from Republican Gov. Haley Barbour on how he’s spending nearly $50 million in federal stimulus money he’s allowed to use at his own discretion.

Barbour’s office didn’t release details about this year’s allocation of his discretionary fund to The Associated Press until AP filed a request through Mississippi public records laws.

The information provided by his office showed the governor already has allocated $43.7 million to various programs, including $9.8 million to community colleges and $7.3 million to a Highway Patrol trooper school.

Lawmakers had knowledge of those specific items because Barbour outlined them earlier this year. But little was known about the other planned spending, said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson.

“The point is we need full disclosure and cooperation and communication to work out a budget,” Blount said.

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, one of the state’s top budget writers, said Barbour’s secrecy has been a concern.

“We asked for it a number of times and never had been able to get it. It’s a problem,” Brown said.

Barbour spokeswoman Laura Hipp said the Joint Legislative Budget Committee was given information about the governor’s discretionary fund months ago when they were creating their budget recommendation. She said updated information was provided within the last week.

“The governor has discussed this fund in the budget process with lawmakers,” Hipp said in an email Thursday.

As part of the federal stimulus, Barbour’s office received $87.2 million to spend over a three-year period that ends this fiscal year. The money has to be obligated by Sept. 30.

Documents show Barbour plans to provide $5.5 million for new software for a statewide administrative system for government agencies; $1 million for the state Department of Education; $2.4 million for Teach For America and $750,000 for Save The Children, two programs funded through the education agency. Barbour also has set aside $350,000 for a Department of Human Services call center related to youth services.

With three months left in the current fiscal year, many of those programs haven’t received the funding.

The money is provided on a draw-down basis, meaning agencies or programs approved to receive funding are reimbursed for their expenses, according to Barbour’s office. The Department of Education won’t seek it’s reimbursement until April, said spokeswoman Wendy Polk.

The documents show the state auditor’s office, which has been charged with keeping track of how the stimulus money is spent, will receive $5.4 million. Barbour will provide $1.5 million for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ cadet class.

Senate Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Committee Chairman Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi, said he didn’t need to see how Barbour was spending the money because he trusts the governor’s judgment.

“He helped us to balance the budget ever since he’s been governor. He’s set aside money from year to year so we wouldn’t be broke. Other states are busted,” said Gollott.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said he’s not concerned about how Barbour’s spending the money because “he has to account for all of it.”

Source: Associated Press

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