Barbour proposes level funding for most agencies

Published 6:59 pm Friday, January 25, 2008

Few state agencies get a budget increase under Gov. Haley Barbour’s spending recommendations for next fiscal year.

“This is a tight budget because this is a tight revenue situation,” Barbour said Thursday during a news conference at his office. “For these departments and agencies to operate at level funding should not be that difficult because they’ve had significant increases in the past.”

Barbour’s recommendations don’t reflect the requests of most state agencies who asked lawmakers during budget hearings in the fall for more money to operate their departments. But lawmakers usually give little consideration to a governor’s recommendations when they’re drafting the budget.

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Lawmakers released their spending proposal in December based on a revenue estimate that forecast slow growth in coming months. It also recommended mostly level or reduced funding. For the next few months, they’ll hammer out the details for the budget year that begins July 1.

Some of the larger agencies that had asked for budget increases next fiscal year were the Department of Corrections, Medicaid, K-12 public education and higher education. Of those only public education and Medicaid would get an increase in Barbour’s proposal.

“Higher ed is not getting funding increases I would prefer, but the money isn’t there,” Barbour said.

Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, a member of the House Universities and Colleges Committee, said he’s not surprised by Barbour’s spending proposal.

“I think you’re going to see more of that in all budgets because our revenue is in decline. We can only spend what we have,” Frierson said.

Barbour included some deficit appropriations for agencies to continue operating throughout the current fiscal year. For Medicaid, he recommended $27 million in state money. The program, which provides health care to 568,000 of the state’s underprivileged, is seeking an $87 million deficit appropriation.

Barbour recommended $10 million for the Department of Mental Health. The agency has asked lawmakers for $22 million to maintain services at its 15 community mental health centers.

He also recommended giving $3 million to the state Department of Health so the agency can hire more employees. State Health Officer Ed Thompson has said more nurses, disease investigators and clinic workers are needed to help track communicable diseases and keep them from spreading.

To stretch state resources, Barbour said he’ll suggest lawmakers free some agencies from the oversight of the state Personnel Board — a move that gives managers more flexibility to eliminate positions.

“I am very confident there will be tens of millions of dollars of savings if the Legislature will do this,” Barbour said.

He’ll face resistance to that proposal.

“State workers have little enough protection as it is. They make little enough money and have little enough insurance. I’m not taking another damn thing from them,” said Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian.

Sen. Robert L. Jackson, D-Marks, said that when the Department of Corrections was removed from the oversight of the Personnel Board a few years ago, the agency “got rid of good employees.”

“I think we need to keep things as they are,” Jackson said.