Mississippi governor’s budget proposal isn’t a deep ball


GAMEPLAN: Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s budget proposal is definitely not a deep ball.

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

In football, short passes and runs can constitute an effective offense. Still, they’re anything but exciting.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has released his 2016 budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1, and it’s a classic example of dink and dunk going into an election year. No deep passes down the middle. No reverses or halfback passes.

The total of the proposal comes to more than $6.1 billion, a 1.7 percent increase over last year’s budget and the third consecutive year in which the state’s general fund budget has increased.

In neighboring Louisiana, fellow Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has cut both the state’s budget and the number of state workers, claiming on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday he axed the former by 9 percent and the latter by 34 percent.

In the Magnolia State, there’s room for change. According to Governing Magazine, Mississippi employs more than 36,000, or about one for every 83 residents. In Louisiana, there is one state employee for every 95 residents. If Mississippi had a similar ratio to the Pelican State, there’d be about 4,500 fewer state employees.

The biggest cut of note in Bryant’s budget is a 2o percent reduction in spending on educational television, which amounts to slightly more than $1.5 million. A lot of agencies are getting the same amount of money they received in last year’s budget.

The biggest news is another increase in K-12 education. Bryant is asking for $2,187,403,170 for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or a 2.5 percent increase. The Department of Education asked for $2,466,356,110 — or a difference of more than $279 million. With a possible ballot initiative and a lawsuit over the funding level of the MAEP, the amount probably won’t be enough to satisfy critics who want even more education spending.

In addition to K-12 education, higher education will get a big boost — $14,225,527 or an increase of 1.5 percent — under the budget proposal. A new program — costing $1.2 million —proposed by the governor would deal with teen pregnancy among students in community and four-year colleges.

He also wants a big increase for the Mississippi Development Authority — $6,223,702 or an increase of 8 percent — to promote tourism. With two new taxpayer-funded music museums either about to open or in the planning stage — the Grammy Museum Mississippi and the Tammy Wynette museum — maybe tax dollars are needed to promote them, too.

Those looking for a tax relief deep ball need to look elsewhere. The only tax relief was $78 million of what the governor’s office calls the “Mississippi Working Families Tax Credit” for low- and moderate-income families that would be suspended in years when revenue was lean.

No cut of the state’s corporate franchise tax. No cut in the state’s income tax. Not even a proposal to do away with the state’s automobile inspection program, which as popular among state residents as unsweetened tea.

No wonder an aggregation of several approval polls on fivethirtyeight.com says Bryant was the nation’s most “blah” governor, as measured by the “don’t know or care” answer. Twenty-eight percent picked the third choice with Bryant.

The problem with deep passes is they are often a feast or famine proposition. Jindal is facing mounting criticism over a $171 million budget shortfall from declining oil and gas revenue.

So maybe in an election year, dink and dunk is the way to go.

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