Governor Barbour, in his annual State of the State address, reiterated his desire for the Legislature to grant him additional authority to make cuts to the current-year budget. He is requesting authority to make cuts, at his discretion, up to 10% of state agencies’ budgets. Current law allows him discretion in making cuts up to 5% of agency budgets when revenues come in at least 2% below projections.
For a number of reasons, The Parents’ Campaign believes that the governor should not be granted budget authority beyond what is already provided in statute. The first and foremost reason is that providing for a balanced budget is the job of the Legislative Branch, not the Executive Branch, of government. Separation of powers is an important standard of our democracy, and that separation of powers should be maintained. The Legislature should do its job and make the additional cuts necessary.
Second, though State Economist Dr. Phil Pepper and the State Revenue Estimating Committee have estimated that the budget shortfall for this year will be approximately $347-million, the governor has said that, if given the additional authority he has requested, he will make budget reductions that total $412-million, $65-million more than is expected to be required. Education will suffer tremendously due to cuts of this magnitude.
Third, leaders in both the House and Senate have noted that there is approximately $500-million of funding that is available to help mitigate budget cuts. State law authorizes the governor to use up to $50-million from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” to address the budget shortfall, an additional $61-million in unobligated federal ARRA funding is available, and approximately $400-million in additional reserve or contingency funds is said to exist. While The Parents’ Campaign does not advocate spending down reserve funds to dangerously low levels, we do believe that the state must take advantage of every opportunity to avoid cutting schools to a point that would compromise the quality of education provided our children.
Governor Barbour has provided the Legislature his plan for additional budget cuts were he to be given the additional authority he has requested. That plan calls for total cuts to K-12 education of 8.9%. In his State of the State address, Governor Barbour stated that, if he was not given additional authority, and if he – not the Legislature – were to make additional cuts, all state agencies would be cut 8.1% (a smaller cut than education would face under his preferred scenario). The Parents’ Campaign believes that the Legislature should retain its budget authority and decide how cuts are to be absorbed by various state agencies. We are hopeful that the Legislature will continue see education as its top priority and will avoid making cuts to K-12 education at a level that will diminish the quality of education provided our children.
The Senate has passed Senate Bill 2495, a bill giving Governor Barbour the additional cuts authority he has requested, on a 29 to19 vote. The bill is now awaiting action in the House of Representatives. We are hopeful that the House will not support this legislation in its current form. We understand that additional cuts are needed and that education will likely have to absorb some of those cuts. However, we believe that the Legislature should make the necessary cuts and that it should do so in a manner that does not cause serious harm to our public education system. Click here to see how budget cuts are affecting our children.