Barbour throws down amnesty gauntlet
The morning session of the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual A Capital Day featured the state’s education officials providing an update to attendees on, for the most part, the condition of their agencies in the middle of the Mississippi’s revenue plunge.
Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham, Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds and State Board of Community and Junior Colleges Executive Director Dr. Eric Clark each stressed the importance of education as a tool that can propel the state out of the national recession, and said that they would manage the budget situation the best they could.
Gov. Haley Barbour, though, provided the most substance when he took the podium at the Jackson Marriott.
As it has been for what seems like forever, Barbour’s budget forecast was grim. Fiscal year 2010′s budget will eventually be cut 8.1 percent across the board; FY2011′s budget will be cut an additional 3 to 4 percent. By the time lawmakers start the 2011 session to craft FY2012′s budget, they will have 15 percent less money than what was originally appropriated for FY2010, which started last July.
FY2010′s budget has already been cut some $226 million, but will need roughly $200 million more in cuts to balance. That’s a big reason, Barbour said, he has been pushing the Legislature to extend his authority to cut the budget from 5 percent to 10 percent.
“These cuts need to be made yesterday,” Barbour said of the additional $200 million from FY2010.
Barbour’s biggest obstacle to gaining that authority lies in the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives.
There will be disagreement within Barbour’s Republicans over the tax amnesty proposal that was included in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s budget recommendation. The proposal is designed to allow businesses and individuals who are delinquent on their taxes to pay them minus the penalties and interest.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has come out strongly for the proposal, telling the Mississippi Business Journal in an extended interview in December that he sees it “as a break for small businesses.”
Barbour does not share the same view. In fact, at the Marriott this morning, the most impassioned part of his 20-minute speech came when he was slamming the amnesty proposal.
“I’m a recovering lawyer, and I know lawyers will tell their clients not to pay their taxes because they know an amnesty period will be down the road,” Barbour said. “That should not be the message we’re sending. The message should be that we will run you down and make you pay your taxes and the penalties and interest if you don’t pay them when you’re supposed to.”
That statement drew a round of applause from the 1,000 or so folks in attendance.
Barbour did say he was happy with most of the rest of the JLBC’s budget proposal, and that it dealt with real numbers and tried to achieve most of the savings he did in his executive budget plan.
Moving forward, though, the tax amnesty issue will probably — at least temporarily — drive a wedge within the Republican leadership in the Senate and Barbour. How big the wedge becomes will be one of the more interesting subplots of the session.