Political bullying or visionary leadership?

Today and tomorrow, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) will hold a series of hearings that will set in motion the state budgeting process. Funding for our children’s schools through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program will almost certainly be hotly debated.

The JLBC is a group of six House members and six senators appointed by the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House. Lt. Gov. Reeves chairs this year’s committee; Speaker Gunn serves as vice chair.

Recently, there have been numerous media reports of legislative leaders taking unscrupulous steps, some possibly illegal, in an effort to defeat Initiative 42 and deny our children the same constitutional right to a quality education that is provided the children in every other state. Will the legislative budget committee continue down that path and use their budget hearings as another weapon with which to bully state agency heads, threatening to cut state services if Initiative 42 passes?

Or will budget committee members demonstrate statesmanship and apply the tools of good governance to craft a budget that ensures Mississippi children have adequately funded K-12 and university and community college systems?

Here’s the truth: for budget leaders to suggest otherwise, telling Mississippians they cannot afford to have adequate state services – K-12, higher education, high quality health, mental health, public safety, transportation, and more – would be an admission of failure by our leadership – and a false choice. 

Governor Barbour made that point for us in his 2007 State of the State speech when he announced a 2008 budget that fully funded the MAEP and provided big funding increases to universities and community colleges – without cutting other state agency budgets. Mississippi has been blessed with significant budget growth in recent years, and this year’s budget committee will have considerably more money at their disposal than was available during Gov. Barbour’s administration. The budget passed by the 2015 Legislature included 16% more in General Funds and $3-Billion more in total state appropriations than the budget Gov. Barbour helped to pass in 2007 (see budget comparison).

There are countless ways that the JLBC can manipulate this week’s hearings and its budget recommendation to make it appear that following their own school funding law would bring dire consequences to other state agencies. But that would be dishonest. The state budget itself tells a very different story.

Mississippians deserve honest leadership that provides a vision toward a better Mississippi, one that is committed to the highest possible quality of services in every critical sector.

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