Merry Christmas, state employees.
The budget proposed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and their budget committee colleagues targets you. If you get to keep your job, they want you to work harder and do more for no more pay. The budget is bad for your retirement (PERS), too. Oh, but you will get a tiny tax cut.
The proposed budget is $195 million less than the twice-cut current budget and cuts nearly every agency. It would eliminate funding for almost 2,000 currently unfilled positions and remove civil-service protection to make it easier for agency heads to fire workers.
Gunn warned agencies “to pay strong attention to this budget.” They will be expected to operate “at the leanest levels possible.”
This is, in effect, government by strangulation. Republicans have a stranglehold on state government and will do whatever it takes to strangle spending so they can cut taxes. Doesn’t matter if you’re already a high-performing and efficient agency or not, you’re getting cut except for K-12 and a handful of special programs.
Not long ago these same legislators touted performance-based budgeting, where high performers would be sustained and low performers eliminated. So much for that.
Yes, the controversial phased-in business and income tax cuts passed last year are built into this budget.
Emily Wagster Pettus of The Associated Press commented, “Mississippi’s economy continues to grow slowly, and tax cuts are projected to reduce the money that state government collects to pay for schools, mental health care, Medicaid, county health clinics, restaurant inspections, the state Crime Lab, casino regulators, county livestock shows and other services.”
Universities and community colleges face cuts of 6.7 percent.
How does this affect PERS? Besides investments, the retirement system depends on wage and employment growth. This budget strangles both.
Cutting government spending and staffing through performance-based budgeting is one thing. Strangling the good parts of government along with the wasteful parts in order to afford untimely tax cuts is quite another.
Gov. Phil Bryant seems to recognize this. In his budget proposal, he calls for the merger of “state agencies, boards and commissions” and the consolidation of “certain functions across state government.”
Bryant notes that mergers and consolidations don’t generate immediate savings, but can have major savings over time. That and elimination of wasteful and duplicative programs are a far better approach than strangling all of government.
On the other hand, he and legislative leaders want to strangle Medicaid, which provides health and nursing home care for the poor, in a state whose national health ranking is once again dead last.
Since the federal government matches state Medicaid funding by a 4.9-to-1 ratio, the proposed cuts would reduce federal matching funds by $106 million to $117 million. Paradoxically, Vice President-elect Mike Pence is working to make expanded Medicaid matching funds available without Obamacare strings.
So state government’s stocking stuffers this year look to be tax cuts for the better off, spending cuts for the hard up and ashes for state employees.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.