The Mississippi Senate passed a bill yesterday that would give Gov. Haley Barbour greater leeway in cutting state agencies to balance the state's budget. The bill, Senate Bill 2495, would allow the governor to cut agency budgets by up to 10 percent at his discretion. Current state law requires Barbour to make across-the-board 5 percent cuts to all agency budgets before cutting any individual budget by more than 5 percent.
Sponsored by Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, the Senate bill comes one week after Barbour rejected a House offer that would have only allowed across-the-board cuts above 5 percent.
In a statement, Barbour commended the Senate for passing the measure and recognizing that "in these dire budget times we cannot do business as usual."
"The Senate's bipartisan vote to give the Governor more flexibility to make needed budget cuts makes a strong statement for responsible, effective management of scarce state fiscal resources and will reassure taxpayers the constitutional mandate to balance the budget will be met," Barbour said. "I hope the House will follow suit."
The Senate bill had plenty of opposition, however, passing 29-19 largely along party lines. Sens. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, and Alice Harden, D-Jackson, each introduced amendments that would have protected education from Barbour's knife, but the Senate voted both down.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, warned Senators that the bill would essentially give Barbour complete control over the budget process. At what may be the low point for the state economy, relying on budget cuts and not dipping into state reserves is misguided, Bryan argued.
"We have money in the Rainy Day Fund," Bryan said in a floor speech. "Now, there's this obsession that we can't spend any money in the Rainy Day Fund because we're worried about the budget for fiscal year 2017. So we've all got to starve to death this year so we can save up money for fiscal year 2017. If this ain't a rainy day, I don't know what is."
The Senate bill now goes to the House for approval, where it may have a chance of survival. The House was deadlocked with the Governor's office on its earlier proposal for across-the-board cuts, but House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, told the Jackson Free Press today that his committee may find some acceptable middle ground.
"We're looking at it, and I think we're much closer than we were 20 hours ago," Stringe said. "I can't give you any details, but we're talking and maybe we can get this process moving forward."
Yeee haw!! As much of a third-world country as Mississippi is, it's only gonna get worse!!!!