In the wake of yet another disappointing state revenue report, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour announced another $54.3 million in budget cuts yesterday, and expressed remorse that he could not impose more cuts under current state law. The announced cuts include a $19.2 million slash in Medicaid reimbursement rates which will not go into effect until February thanks to a law that does not allow Barbour to reduce rates until February.
"I'm putting them in notice that there will be a 5 percent reduction in provider rates," Barbour said.
The current round of Barbour's cuts do not include further reductions in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the Auditor's office or the Mississippi Tax Commission. Other offices, such as the Attorney General's Office, will see 5 percent in cuts.
The $54.3 million in cuts joins another $170 million the governor ordered in September. The state Constitution, which provides legislators majority control over the state's wallet, currently prohibits the governor from cutting any state agency by more than 5 percent unless spending for all agencies has already been cut by 5 percent. Barbour warned that the state faces a potential $386 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2010, with tax collection falling $136.8 million below estimates. But he said that this kind of shortfall demands surgical slicing rather than the "shotgun blast" of blanket cuts to everything.
Barbour said state law would force him to reduce the National Board of Certification and potentially violate the terms of court orders and settlements if he were to make any further cuts.
"I cannot, under current law, make that $160-something million in cuts for this reason. I cannot cut spending that is required by court decisions, the Ayers case, the Chickasaw Interest. And I can not cut debt service, because the impact of not paying it is catastrophic," Barbour said. "I can't cut anything above 5 percent until I cut everything 5 percent, and there are some things I just can't cut 5 percent. This is why several weeks ago I asked the legislative budget committee to change the law and give the governor the authority to make savings of up to 10 percent in departments and agencies."
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, told the Jackson Free Press that many legislators will have a hard time transferring more power to an already powerful governor's office.
"State laws don't give the power of the purse strings to one man for a reason," Holland said.