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Since when do college athletes need PR firms?

July 29th, 2010 1 comment

We’re not going to rehash the ins and outs of the will-he-or-won’t-he nonsense that has become Ole Miss’ pursuit/non-pursuit/whatever it is of former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. There are plenty of other places you can find that out if you aren’t already informed.

What did catch Magnolia Marketplace’s eye, though, is the news that Masoli has hired this PR firm to represent him in his effort to present himself in a more favorable light.

What?

Even though he currently has no team, Masoli is still (technically) an amateur athlete. When did athletes who are (technically) still amateurs start hiring PR firms to represent them while they look for a (technically) amateur athletic program to play for?

Professional athletes have armies of PR people in their employ. So do corporations big and small. There’s certainly nothing wrong with pro athletes and businesses hiring folks to help shape their public image. It’s smart, actually, to do so.

But bringing one on board in the middle of a crisis sounds all sorts of alarm bells. Toyota did it in the middle of the recall mess, after the company’s response to it had drawn criticism for being too slow or too steeped in denial. BP, after their now-former CEO committed some of the worst PR blunders of the past decade, did the same for a lot of the same reasons.

There aren’t many things Magnolia Marketplace loves more than Ole Miss football. And we have absolutely no control over whether Masoli ends up playing for the Rebels. As of late Thursday afternoon, it seemed for all the world that he would. If/when he takes the field, we hope he’s every bit as good as he’s been the past two years at Oregon. And if he helps the Rebels beat Alabama or LSU or Auburn or Arkansas, we’ll celebrate along with everybody else.

But there’s a reason Masoli and his family deemed it necessary to spend what’s probably a sizable amount of money on a PR firm to basically make people think he’s not as much of a creep as he seemed when he got into all that trouble at Oregon.

It just smells bad.

Barbour modifies his budget recommendation

April 14th, 2010 11 comments

Just under a week before lawmakers resume the 2010 session, Gov. Haley Barbour has adjusted his executive budget recommendation to reflect the most recent revenue estimate.

The House and Senate have agreed that there will be about $5.4 billion to spread among state agencies for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1. Barbour based his budget outline on that number.

The big-ticket items aren’t affected much, based on their funding for FY2010.

Education, under Barbour’s plan, would receive $3 million less in FY2011 than it got in FY2010. THe education budget eats up $4.57 billion of the available $5.4 billion.

Barbour does propose taking $30 million from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program to create a fund that would offer bridge loans to school districts that needed them.

“That’s not really fair to the districts that are run well,” Barbour said. The National Board Certified Teachers program, which pays a salary supplement to teachers who meet certain criteria, would remain fully funded.

The news isn’t as good for higher education, which would receive 12 percent less year to year. The community and junior college system (11 percent less) is in a similar situation.

Medicaid’s budget is still somewhat up in the air, as states await Congress’ decision to extend (or not extend) the enhanced FMAP that would pour $187 million into Mississippi’s Medicaid program. That uncertainty is why lawmakers took a recess in the first place.

Corrections would undergo a 4.8 percent cut, and the Department of Public Safety would have its appropriation cut 8 percent. Barbour said the 4 percent cut to the Corrections budget would not result in the release of prisoners who were otherwise not scheduled for parole.

In all, Barbour’s proposal would trim most agencies’ funding levels between 12 and 17 percent, with some cut more and some cut less. Those cut the most include Attorney General Jim Hood’s office (17.4 percent), IHL’s agriculture units (16.9 percent) and Barbour’s office (14.8 percent).

Lawmakers return to Jackson to craft the FY2011 budget April 20.

Barbour keeps his budget promise

January 22nd, 2010 1 comment

Magnolia Marketplace has finally gotten over some sort of hybrid flu/weird sickness menace that has kept us out of the office this week.

The first day back has been eventful.

To recap: Gov. Haley Barbour said earlier this week that if the House did not pass the bill sent by the Senate that would extend Barbour’s budget-cutting authority from 5 percent to 10 percent, and allow him flexibility as far as which agencies got cut, that he would cut the fiscal year 2010 budget this week to balance it in the middle of spiraling state revenue. He apparently wasn’t kidding.

Barbour just wrapped a press conference in which he announced he’s ordering that the FY2010 budget be cut an additional 3.1 percent across the board, on top of the 5 percent in cuts he’s made since the budget  year started last July.

So every agency and department has been cut by 8.1 percent, for a total of $437 million. Exempt from those cuts are things like debt service, court-ordered settlement and — Magnolia Marketplace did not know this until today — the Legislature. When lawmakers passed the law that spelled out who was and wasn’t exempt from budget cuts, they included themselves in the “exempt” category.

The big ticket items broke down like this as far as total cuts for FY2010.

Mississippi Adequate Education Program: $170 million

Higher Education: $54 million

Community and Junior Colleges: $20.5

Corrections: $26.5 million

Barbour said Corrections could absorb the cuts without the release of the much-talked-about 3,500 to 4,000 prisoners, but that shifting inmate populations to community work centers and away from the state prisons, and the shifting of some discretionary stimulus money, would be necessary to make that happen.

“But I can’t guarantee that zero will be released, either,” Barbour said.

When asked if the latest cuts would result in state workers losing their jobs, Barbour replied, “Yes.”

Barbour also reiterated his long-held stance that the state’s rainy day fund has to last another couple years and that next two budget  years will feature “enormous losses” in revenue as stimulus money disappears.

As for this year, “I cannot guarantee that this is where the cuts will end,” Barbour said.

UPDATED AT 12:20 P.M. : Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, just released a statement regarding today’s budget news. “I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I predict a great hue and cry will come down on those whom Mississippians feel are responsible for unnecessarily  gutting funds and placing jobs in peril when a better alternative exists,” McCoy said, referencing the House plan that would have spent additional money from the rainy day fund and the governor’s discretionary stimulus fund.”

McCoy compared Barbour’s move today to Sherman’s March to the Sea, in which he torched every city, town and hamlet he came across. “We know how about how long it took to recover from that,” McCoy said.

Barbour throws down amnesty gauntlet

January 7th, 2010 1 comment

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.

Merry Christmas from Magnolia Marketplace

December 22nd, 2009 No comments

Apologies for the extended neglect of the blog. With the Holidays switching up the schedule here at the MBJ, we’ve had to cram two work weeks into one. That’s not a complaint, because it means we’re getting a few days off to do the Christmas routines, watch bowl games, drink eggnog and watch more bowl games.

Big things happened in 2009. Some good, some not good, some pretty bad. We took a look back in this week’s edition. Next week, we’ll look forward with some predictions for 2010 from some of the state’s business and political experts. There’s a surprise or two in there. Look for it.

In that vein, some personal predictions from Magnolia Marketplace:

• The legislative session that starts in a couple weeks will be wild and woolly.

• And despite what each party’s leadership says now, the state’s budget for fiscal year 2011 will not be done by the end of March, though we’d love to be proven wrong.

• No state agency will be happy with its appropriation for FY2011.

• In fact, many agency heads will cry bloody murder.

• Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal to merge the three HBCUs into one will get absolutely nowhere in the Legislature, but that’s not going out on much of a limb.

• The Congressional campaign between Republican State Sen. Alan Nunnelee and Travis Childers, the Democrat from Booneville who represents the First District, will be a humdinger, with the national committees from each party pouring lots of money into it.

• The tone of the campaign will be exceedingly nasty.

• Toyota will announce it is ready to move forward with the Blue Springs plant.

• By this time next year, we’ll have a much clearer picture of the gubernatorial candidates for 2011, particularly on the Democratic side.

• On Jan. 2, Jevan Snead will throw at least one interception in the Cotton Bowl.

• Magnolia Marketplace will hit the ceiling when he does.

To you and yours, Merry Christmas. We’ll see you Dec. 28.

Opinions emerge on consolidation, university mergers

November 16th, 2009 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour unveiled his budget recommendation this afternoon.

As expected, Barbour’s proposal calls for a major restructuring of the state’s education system.

The state’s public school districts should be reduced from 152 to 100, Barbour said, in an effort to save money as state revenue continues to plunge.

The reforms reach into higher education, too. Barbour’s budget plan proposes that the Mississippi University for Women merge with Mississippi State University, and for Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University to merge with Jackson State. In each instance, the campuses of the schools eliminated would remain open, but carry a new name.

The proposals come on the heels of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s meeting last week, in which lawmakers learned revenue in fiscal year 2011, which starts next July 1, would come in $715 million under appropriations for FY10. The predicted shortfall for FY12 is over $1 billion.

“These are major changes for a significant new direction,” Barbour said.

School district consolidation and university mergers have historically been dead on arrival when the ideas reached the Capitol. Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs and chair of the House Universities and Colleges Committee, said in a statement that merging universities is not the solution to the state’s revenue problems.

“I would disagree with the governor or anyone who would suggest that closing universities or reducing access and opportunity to a variety of educational course options is the way to go,” he said. “While this may appear to some to be the answer, it is my view that this method would serve as only a short term approach and would do considerable damage to the state’s future long term economic viability.”

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, was the first to publicly broach the idea combining educational entities last month at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob.

“The governor has presented a very bold budget that has a lot of merit and one that is a work in progress,” Flaggs said this afternoon. Flaggs serves on the JLBC, which will present its own budget recommendation Dec. 2. Flaggs said he would visit, over the next month, the president of each university affected in Barbour’s plan before making a decision on whether he would support it.

“I’m open for discussion. We’re at a crossroads. We’ve got to make these tough decisions.”

October revenue numbers well below estimates

November 2nd, 2009 No comments

It’s appropriate that Halloween was two days ago, because the state’s revenue collections for October that were released just a few minutes ago are frightening.

Per Kathy Waterbury of the Mississippi State Tax Commission:

• The MSTC collected $390 million in October, which is $27.8 million below the estimate made just before the Legislature adjourned the 2009 session in late June. Advancing the Halloween theme, that represents a shortfall of 6.66 percent.

• For the first four months of fiscal  year 2010, revenue is 7.42 percent short of estimates, for a total shortfall of $105.2 million. Spread out over the entire fiscal year, that would put the state short about $315 million by the time FY11 start next July 1. That number is right in the middle of Gov. Haley Barbour’s $275 million to $350 million estimate he made when he announced budget cuts in September.

As has been the case in prior months, sales tax revenue and individual income tax revenue led the downward spiral, Waterbury said.

Magnolia Marketplace will be at the monthly meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps at lunch today. Ole Miss Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones is the speaker. It will be interesting to see what he says about his institution’s budget situation as it relates to today’s revenue news. We’ll have the details as soon as they’re available.

Keenum: MSU “not prepared” for more cuts this fiscal year

October 5th, 2009 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has been going to the monthly lunch meetings of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps for three months shy of two years, and today’s crowd to hear MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum was easily the biggest in that time.

Keenum seemed genuinely surprised at how many folks showed up. “I figured there would be a couple dozen people and one or two members of the press,” he said. Instead, the largest room in the University Club was filled. There were probably close to 100 people in attendance.

Keenum started his 37-minute speech with some good financial news. He said private donations in fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, were up 20 percent compared with FY08. “And we’re running way ahead of this time last year,” Keenum said.

His discussion of the public funding front wasn’t nearly as positive.

The Institutions of Higher Learning, MSU included, took a 5 percent hit to its budget early last month when Gov. Haley Barbour had to trim $170 million from the FY10 budget because tax revenue in July and August fell short of expectations.

Higher education and K-12 education took the brunt of the cuts, because their budgets had been cut less than other departments during the several rounds of belt-tightening in FY09. Education overall has now been cut by 5 percent.

Keenum said he instructed his department heads at the beginning of this fiscal year to operate on the assumption that there would be a 5 percent cut before next July, when FY11 started. Three months into FY10, that became a reality.

“I’m not prepared for any other cuts,” Keenum said, “but I’ve been told that may become a reality (before the fiscal  year ends).”

IHL Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds was one of several state agency  heads who recently wrapped up their FY11 budget requests to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, in which all were told that the funding pool is already shallow and is almost guaranteed to continue to shrink.

Mississippi State’s enrollment is up 800 students over last year, which will make up about 40 percent of the shortfall left by the 5 percent in cuts, Keenum said. If cuts exceed 5 percent for the year, Keenum promised he would do “everything I can” to minimize the impact on MSU employees but did not rule out layoffs as a cost-cutting measure.

He also said he would not be in favor of implementing a hiring freeze. “We’re not going to let the quality of our product deteriorate. There’s not another state in the nation as dependent on higher education as Mississippi.”

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Keenum to address Stennis crowd today

October 5th, 2009 No comments

Mississippi State University President Dr. Mark Keenum is the keynote speaker today at the monthly meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps. The noon meeting will be held at the University Club in Jackson, and the place is sure to be packed.

With state revenues continuing to fall short of estimates, budgets across the board will most likely be cut once Gov. Haley Barbour returns from an economic development trip to Asia. It’s a pretty safe bet Keenum will touch on that to some degree today.

And as usual, Magnolia Marketplace will have the ins, outs and what-have-yous as soon as possible.

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Lots of disagreement over MUW name change

August 31st, 2009 No comments

I wrote a story for this week’s edition of the MBJ that looks at all the discord over the proposal to rename Mississippi University for Women Reneau University.

There has been very little meeting of the minds since MUW President Claudia Limbert announced Aug. 10 that Reneau was the choice. The alumnae association has come out strongly against a name change, suggesting a “re-branding” of the university instead. Business groups are mixed. The Mississippi Economic Council and the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link support it. Some of the Link’s members oppose it. I talked to two of them for the story.

I tried to contact a couple legislators who serve on the Universities and Colleges Committee in both the House and Senate but did not hear back from any until the issue had gone to press. I heard from Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs Universities and Colleges, as the presses were literally running.

Davis did not come down firmly on either side of the issue, but did say that any conversation and/or debate that centered on higher education in Mississippi was fine with him. Davis and other lawmakers, and the College Board who will have to sign off on the proposal before it can reach the Capitol, will no doubt be besieged by groups advocating for and against Reneau. It’s an emotional issue and both sides seem to have dug in for a fight. Should be interesting.