Legislative Leaders Admit Tampering with Official Initiative 42 Analysis

In the next 10 days, the state election commission must decide if the November ballot will include Initiative 42 wording that was manipulated by legislative leaders to reflect the talking points of the opposition.

State law requires the Mississippi Legislative Budget Office (LBO) to produce a fiscal analysis of a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative to tell the public how much the proposed amendment could cost the state. Good governance calls for an objective, non-politicized analysis with factual information. 

Instead, Mississippi’s legislative leadership has  acknowledged that it was involved in changing the LBO’s original fiscal analysis to a new politicized version that reflects the talking points of those opposed to Initiative 42. 

The original (and factual) fiscal analysis, issued by the LBO staff in March, stated:  

The cost to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) statutory formula portion of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget request as submitted by the Department of Education totals $271,136,036 above the Fiscal Year 2015 funding level. Initiative 42 amends Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution to require that the legislature must fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools and also authorizes the chancery courts to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief. The Legislature would need to appropriate an additional $271,136,036 above the Fiscal Year 2015 level for the support of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program to meet the statutory formula for Fiscal Year 2016. Budget projections for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program for the Fiscal Years 2017 through 2020 reflect average additional formula increases of approximately $33 million annually.

Imagine our surprise earlier this month when brochures published by the Secretary of State’s office included a new and very different fiscal analysis – also from the LBO. We learned that, shortly before the Initiative 42 public forums began, the Secretary of State’s office was presented with this new analysis from the budget office. The new analysis reads:

Because this proposed amendment shifts funding decisions from the Legislature to the court system, it is impossible to provide a specific fiscal impact of Initiative 42. If the court system, acting under the new authority granted by Initiative 42, required K-12 Public Education be funded at the amount called for by the statutory Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the Legislature would need to appropriate an additional $201,031,129 above the Fiscal Year 2016 budgeted amount. Fiscal Year 2016 revenues are not adequate to support this funding increase without the Legislature having to cut agency budgets or identify new sources of revenue (such as fees or tax increase) to comply with the court’s dictate. 

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports that the staff of the LBO has indicated that the change was made at the direction of the leadership of the Legislative Budget Committee (Lt. Gov. Reeves and Speaker Gunn), to whom the budget office staff reports. When Journal reporter Bobby Harrison suggested that surely state leaders would not want the people of Mississippi to think that they placed a biased and manipulated fiscal analysis on the election ballot, the response was, “Why not?” You can read Harrison’s article here: http://djournal.com/opinion/bobby-harrison-an-independent-analysis-could-slice-politics-away-from-facts/. 

The Mississippi Board of Election Commissioners, made up of Governor Phil Bryant, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, and Attorney General Jim Hood, will meet soon to decide which information should be included on the ballot. Should it include the original, factual analysis by the Legislative Budget Office, or should voters be subjected to the politically manipulated new analysis that obviously is intended to suppress votes for Initiative 42? 

If you would like to weigh in, you can reach commission members at the numbers below.

Governor Bryant: 601.359.3150

Secretary Hosemann: 601.359.1350

Attorney General Hood: 601.359.3680

Note: General Hood’s mother passed away earlier this week, and we extend our condolences to him and his family. You can leave a message for General Hood with a receptionist or ask to speak to an assistant. 

The new fiscal analysis isn’t just biased; it is false. Initiative 42 does not shift appropriations authority to the courts; the Legislature will continue to write appropriations bills and appropriate all funds – including education – just as they always have. Initiative 42 also does not grant any new authority to the courtsThe courts already are tasked with hearing evidence and ruling on whether or not the actions of the Legislature are constitutional. The problem is that our constitution currently does not provide our children the same right to an adequately funded education that every other state’s constitution provides its children. A judge recently ruled that, in Mississippi, it is not a violation of the constitution for our Legislature to deny our children an adequate education. Initiative 42 would change that by granting our children the right to an adequately supported, or funded, education. Ensuring and protecting rights through a constitutional amendment is not a radical idea; keep in mind that just last year, Mississippians voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment that made hunting and fishing a constitutional right for sports men and women.

We have a system of government that allows the people to have the final say about how our state will be run – but only if we pay close attention, speak up, and demand better. That’s exactly what Initiative 42 is about: the people demanding that our Legislature stop breaking its own law and provide our children a proper education. Our elected leadership – apparently spooked by the enthusiasm of Initiative 42 supporters – is doing everything in its power to shut down Mississippians’ participation in our own democracy. 

Will we sit silently by while state leaders  manipulate state agencies, threaten voters, and provide false information to the citizens of our state? Or will we fight the good fight for our children? If I know you, you will stand up for our kids. And that, my friends, is a real Mississippi blessing!

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