Joint Legislative Budget Committee Says Cut Budgets and Bank the Money
From Executive Director Nancy Loome:
Not much surprises me these days, but I must admit that I was surprised by the FY2016 budget recommendation announced today by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC). In December of each year, the JLBC crafts a budget based upon preliminary estimates of what the Legislature will have to spend in the coming legislative session.
The good news is that revenue is projected to be at an all-time high – at least 3 percent higher than last year’s budget. Here’s where it gets bizarre: Although Mississippi is projected to have more money on hand than ever before, the committee recommended cutting state services by more than $112-million.
The recommendation underfunds the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) by $280-million. The only increase in K-12 funding is $32-million to go toward the second phase of the teacher pay raise. Even the Schools for the Blind and Deaf are cut by 14 percent.
The committee apparently didn’t get the memo about the public’s priorities…
More than 200,000 Mississippians recently signed a petition to amend the State Constitution to ensure that students are provided adequate education funding. That is the highest number of signatures gathered on any citizen-led initiative in the history of the state. People want their public schools adequately funded.
So, what did the committee’s budget do with all the extra money? It’s in the bank! That’s right, they are saving it. Our public schools may be starved of the resources required to educate our children, our roads may be crumbling, but we’ve got plenty of money in the bank – to the tune of $622-million – and our state leaders are very, very proud of that fact.
Speaker Gunn noted that the state is in “fantastic” financial shape and that the budget recommendation “funds our priorities.” You might want to ask your legislators how they feel about that. My guess is that most of them will tell you what they are telling me: they know that revenue is more than sufficient to fully fund the MAEP, and they are ready to provide adequately for our children’s schools. It looks like we still have some work to do to convince the leadership of that fact.
The legislative session that begins in just a matter of weeks will be a very important one. The word is that the leadership is determined to kill Initiative 42, the school funding amendment, by putting a competing version on the ballot; corporate profiteers and the privatization crowd are putting lots of money behind their efforts to turn public school dollars over to for-profit and private schools; and this budget recommendation makes it clear that we have an uphill battle when it comes to the basics of school funding. Please check in with your legislators between now and January and talk with them about your priorities. Let them know that they will have your support if they support our public schools.
It’s going to take all of us to ensure that Mississippi children have a decent shot at a bright future, but I can’t think of anything more worthy of our best effort. Our kids are counting on us!