Thursday, October 1, 2009
Board hears state budget woes
By SUE WATSON
Consultant Gary Anderson talked state budget cuts recently with the Marshall County Board of Supervisors.
“When budget revenues don’t match reality, it is incumbent on the governor of Mississippi by law to start making budget cuts,” Anderson told the board.
Although there has been some national news indicating the economy may be coming out of the recession, Anderson said the Mississippi economy usually tanks later than elsewhere in the country and comes back later than the rest of the country.
As of the first of September, Gov. Haley Barbour had to find $171 million in his budget to cut, Anderson said.
“So, on the appropriations side of the ledger, it’s looking bleak right now (in terms of new money),” Anderson said.
He thinks there will be opportunities for bonds, and expects a bond affecting Marshall County scheduled for sale in October is still on.
Every state agency will be cut by 5 percent to reduce Barbour’s budget, with theexception of certain agencies like prisons that cannot be cut, Anderson said.
“But he will cut some areas deeper,” Anderson said, adding that when all is said and done, agencies including the schools (Department of Education) will have budget cuts anywhere from 7 percent to 10 percent.
Since education is already 64 percent of the state budget, cuts will eventually have to be made there after the initial 5 percent cut, he said.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said school districts were cut 4 percent “right off the bat.” He expects another 5 percent cut at the state level in education.
Anderson said cuts were necessary because July 2009 revenue was 21 percent off the July 2008 revenue coming into the state coffers.
Supervisor George Zinn III said there was concern the governor was holding stimulus money back from junior colleges.
He also asked Anderson why the governor could not hold back some construction money and put it directly into instruction in education’s fund.
Anderson said, “Education is not something you build a budget around since this (stimulus money) is just a two-year infusion.
“So, you would have to find a way to sustain new expenditures. The governor has some authority to make decisions on how to use stimulus money.”
The money is designed to be spent over a two-year period, he said.
Supervisor Willie Flemon said he thought the stimulus money was to go to specific projects.
“Yes, it is earmarked, but the governor does have an impact on how fast the money is spent and how it is spent down through the school system,” Anderson said.
Bennett said $3 million the county school district was receiving for construction could only be spent over two years.
Anderson said projects that were ready to go got the first infusion of stimulus dollars and those that were not ready at the time the money was authorized, would get dollars later.
Bennett said the public does not understand why the school system didn’t use stimulus money for a shortfall in state revenue, but superintendent Donald Randolph could not, by law, use the money for a shortfall (in revenues projected that didn’t materialize).
Anderson said stimulus monies were primarily targeted for construction and that education is encouraging school districts to do something about the dropout rate by adding after-school, weekend or summer school hours.
“The dropout rate in Mississippi is horrendous across the board,” he said.
Anderson added that stimulus package money coming to the county will be handled by special accounting agents who will work directly with the county on project reporting.
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