Thankfully, Mississippi’s budget battle is over how much to save

March 30, 2011 

While the state of Mississippi’s financial condition could certainly be rosier, it is hardly the briar patch other states find themselves in.

We base that observation on the following assessments of the momentarily stalled budget process at the Capitol:

-- House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, says that his colleagues “have sent the Senate a complete budget that is balanced [and] that leaves more than $250 million in reserve funds. … It is a prudent budget that takes nothing for granted.”

-- Republican Gov. Haley Barbour contends he has a budget plan that “would leave $231 million in the state’s reserves” while the Democratic-controlled House budget is “predicated on hopes, not economic reality” and “would leave only about $180 million in reserves.”

So a state budget of nearly $5.5 billion is being held up by a disagreement over how much should be saved for a rainy day?

There are, of course, other differences between the spending plans bouncing back and forth between the House and Senate and governor.

But what is most remarkable to us, considering the dire straits of so many other states, is that Mississippi has the means to keep tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve for the next fiscal year.

We’re sure the governor, if he does decide to run for president next month, would like to be able to point to a healthy balance in the state’s rainy day account as proof of his sound management of public monies. We’re just as sure many legislative incumbents would like to tell their constituents while they’re campaigning this year that they preserved as many state services — and jobs — as they possibly could, even at the expense of the state’s savings account.

But there’s more to this than just politics.

State government has not yet squeezed through the revenue pinch of the Great Recession, and there are significant financial challenges awaiting the next governor and Legislature.

In recognition of that, Barbour told legislators by letter this week: “I propose spending $5.447 billion in Fiscal Year 2012, which is $30 million more than legislators agreed upon in their own budget recommendation in December and $45 million above my original budget.”

Surely there’s a deal for both politicians and taxpayers in there somewhere.

This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board, which consists of President-Publisher Glen Nardi, Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, Opinion Page Editor B. Marie Harris, Associate Editor Tony Biffle, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Flora S. Point and Marketing Services Director John McFarland. Opinions expressed by columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are their own.

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