Stennis format changes a bit

Gov. Haley Barbour was the keynote for today’s monthly luncheon meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson. Usually, speakers offer a 20- to 30-minute presentation before taking a few questions from the audience.

Barbour took the podium and started taking questions immediately. It was a nice change.

Anyway, Barbour didn’t say a whole lot that he didn’t say Friday, when he announced that he was making the third round of cuts to the state’s budget.

He did say that he thought “the vast majority of school districts will be fine” financially after the the latest round of cuts brought the total dollars shaved from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program to $170 million for fiscal year 2010. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham said Friday afternoon that the cuts would “devastate” the state’s public education system. School districts will have to lean heavily on their reserves, Barbour said, to make it to the end of the budget ¬†year. Included in Barbour’s executive budget recommendation is a $35 million set aside to assist those districts whose reserves are not as deep as others.

Barbour also repeated a line he has used frequently the past couple months, that he thinks Mississippi will emerge from the national recession quicker than other states because of the proliferation of high-tech manufacturing jobs from projects like Severstal in Columbus and the GE Aviation plant in Batesville. His commission to study school consolidation is scheduled to release its findings in a report on April 1, which is too late for that issue to be considered in the regular session. Barbour said it’s likely a special session would be needed to tackle it. That, of course, is assuming lawmakers are able to craft a budget for FY2011 by the end of March, which is far from guaranteed.

Barbour, who serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also talked some national politics. He called Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts for the right to fill Ted Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat “volcanic” and said it had changed the GOP’s playbook for 2010 and beyond, with candidate recruitment increasing in some places that have traditionally been hostile to Republicans. The RGA, Barbour said, has $25 million to spend on elections in 2010, which is a record amount.

Barbour thinks this political environment is more favorable to Republicans than it was in 1994, when Barbour was head of the National Republican Committee and engineered the GOP takeover of the U.S. House and Senate.

“There’s a lot of energy on our side,” Barbour said.

Barbour also had a pretty interesting take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a 20-year-old law that prohibited corporations and unions from spending money on political advertising. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story about that for next week’s MBJ, and Barbour’s thoughts on the matter will pepper it pretty heavily. Look for it.

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