Gov. Haley Barbour released a budget proposal yesterday calling for a 12 percent cut in the state budget for most agencies and the consolidation of the state's historically black colleges and universities. The proposal, which reflects the state's fiscal year 2011 revenue estimates of a $715 million shortfall, picks and chooses which agencies should receive the majority of cuts.
The Mississippi Development Authority, for which the governor selects the members, will only suffer a 5 percent cut, because Barbour says the agency "plays a crucial role in creating needed jobs by attracting new employers to Mississippi" and encourages existing businesses to stay in the state.
Barbour recommends a 6 percent cut to Republican-favored agencies like the Department of Corrections, and an 8 percent cut to the Department of Public Safety. However, the Republican governor suggests a cut of more than 12 percent to the attorney general's office, which also plays a huge role in crime reduction across the state. Attorney General Jim Hood is the only Democrat holding a statewide office in Mississippi, and has threatened to sue the governor over issues relating to the Department of Public Safety.
The governor said in his proposal that Hood's office needs more extensive cuts to "bring them into parity with the rest of state government." In the same document, however, the governor suggests the office should adopt the work of the Commission of the Status of Womenwhich the governor wants to see discontinued. Other entities that Barbour wants to do away with are the Mississippi Technology Alliance and the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, the work of which can be adopted by the MDA, he says.
But one of Barbour's most controversial suggestions in his 27-page proposal is his request to consolidate the state's three historically black colleges and universitiesAlcorn State, Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State Universityinto one. One other fusion candidate includes the Mississippi University for Women, which Barbour suggests merging with Mississippi State University. His proposal does not impact the state's other majority-white universities, including the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, who chairs the House Universities and Colleges Committee, said Barbour is using economic problems to push a personal agenda.
"It's really unbelievable how the governor has taken a few bad economic years and used them to create a platform of long-term education policy," said Buck, who is black. "It's the wrong approach. The primary problem is when you talk about consolidating, you're talking about eliminating programs, and I don't think the universities or the House will take that recommendation very seriously."
Barbour also recommends merging some state school districts, reducing the state's 152 school districts down to 100, and reducing funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Programwhich provides money for schools in low-revenue districtsby almost $240 million.
Nancy Loome of education lobbying group The Parents Campaign, said the true reduction amounts to about $300 million, considering that the Mississippi Department of Education actually requested a $61 million increase in MAEP funding for fiscal year 2011. She asked that legislators treat Barbour's proposal like a proposal and not law.
"It is important to remember that the governor's recommendation is just that: a recommendation. The Mississippi Legislature has constitutional authority over the state budget, and it is the Legislature that will make the final budget appropriations," Loome said in a statement.