Gov. Haley Barbour just finished a conference call with reporters, but the big news is where he was sitting while he was speaking: Baghdad.
Barbour was in Iraq visiting soldiers in the Mississippi National Guard’s 155th Armored Brigade as part of a Veterans Day excursion. He couldn’t divulge many details of his trip, per Defense Department Policy.
Anyway, Barbour’s executive budget recommendation is due to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Monday, the particulars of which dominated much of the 25-minute chat.
Barbour said last week that an additional $200 million in cuts would be necessary to FY10’s budget because of declining tax revenue. Barbour trimmed $172 million — mostly from education — from the budget in September.
“This budget recommendation will be anything but business as usual,” said Barbour, reciting a line he has used often when describing the state’s fiscal situation. “It will include some dramatic ways to restructure (state agencies and government) but it will not be Draconian. We’re not gutting anything. We are going to push very hard to be sure we’re spending on our priorities.”
Barbour did not provide any specifics, but did offer that some of the things he will propose will not save a huge amount of money until FY12, which starts July 1, 2011.
The state’s revenue estimating group told members of the JLBC last week that FY10’s total shortfall will reach $370 million, which is about $20 million more than Barbour’s high-end estimate he made in announcing the September cuts.
Barbour predicted, based on information from the revenue estimating group, that FY11’s total shortfall could exceed $700 million, which is why his budget recommendation due Monday will be a financial shell of those he’s presented in the past, he said. Contributing mightily to that deficit is the state’s Medicaid program, which will lose $200 million starting Jan. 1, 2011, in a combination of decreased federal match money and increased costs. Several hundred million dollars’ worth of stimulus money will also be gone by then.
“We may have to find another $500 million to $600 million in 2012 over and above what we have to find for this year and for FY11,” Barbour said. “We’re going to have to make more big savings (in FY12) even if revenue keeps dropping,” Barbour said.
On a lighter note, Barbour spoke at length about some of the soldiers he’s rubbed elbows with since he arrived in Iraq earlier this week after visiting with wounded Mississippi soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital Monday in Washington.
“This warrior mentality that they have is so strong and when one compares it to the liberal media elite or some people in Washington, it has a very powerful effect on me to see these very brave, very strong, very good people,” he said.