"What I propose is to change the way we do a lot of things," he said.
That might be an understatement. His proposals would include:
- Merging Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State University.
- Merging Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University into Jackson State University.
- Reducing the number of school districts from 152 to about 100 districts.
- Closing mental heath crisis centers and four Department of Mental Health facilities.
- Cutting state agencies an average 12 percent.
- Changing community college governance.
These are just a few of the proposals. Politically, any one of the proposals on Barbour's budget list would create a political firestorm. Proposals to close or merge MUW and Valley in the past left legislators bloodied and bowed. Reducing the number of school districts involves community pride, sports not to mention politics.
But while the proposed cuts are dramatic, the budget situation facing the state is dramatic as well.
Revenue for this fiscal year that began July 1 is $371 million below estimates.
That deficiency for the next budget year is expected to be $715.5 million.
The 2012 budget, which will be written in an election year, will be more difficult, Barbour warns.
For 2012, the gap could grow to $1.2 billion.
There are no good ones for lawmakers.
It means Barbour's cuts, their own cuts or finding new revenue. New revenue can only come from new taxes or fees, raiding special funds, using all of the state's "rainy-day" funds or a combination of all of those. None is politically popular.
Barbour has done lawmakers a favor by proposing politically unpopular cuts. That could make whatever they do more acceptable. The alumni of schools and other affected constituencies now will begin intense lobbying. But all Mississippians will be affected by this budget.
Lawmakers should not dismiss this executive budget. Some of these proposals - such as school district consolidation - make sense despite the budget problems. But, they also must not allow budget problems to reverse decades of progress in areas of education, health and public services.
Any course taken will be painful. It's time for ideas, innovation and political courage.
The governor's budget offers a starting point.
Like him or not, the Governor's budget is probably very conservative. No one likes to talk about cuts and consolidations, particularly when they directly impact your life and income, but it's time for us to pay the fiddler!
School consolidations are long overdue. Why pay Presidents and Superintendents hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do what? Consolidate public school districts and universities and get rid of the top heavy administrative costs... we can no longer afford them.
Health care... get ready to pony up also! Mississippi's Crisis Centers have become holding tanks for the few state hospital beds. There will always be a need for inpatient mental health facilities, but most patients could be treated more efficiently at community out-patient facilities. Crisis centers are a luxury that we can no longer afford!
And for those hospitals who feed at the Medicaid trough... guess what, it's dry! Obama-care or not, cost-containment and accountability are the new buzz-words for 2010.
For the last 20 years, Mississippi politicians have spent like drunken sailors, funding pork barrel projects that keep them in office and their "friends" employed. Well, that era is over. With taxpayers and jobs fleeing Mississippi on a daily basis, dark clouds are gathering over that "rainy day" fund that provides us with such false security.
I am not a fan of Haley Barbour, but his figures are correct! The only option we have is to cut spending drastically in this state, or suffer the consequences. There is waste in every public department of this state and most of us know it. In 2010, we will barely keep our heads above water due to millions in stimulus dollars. In 2011, they will remove our "life preservers" and see if we will sink or swim.
If we do not make significant cuts now, we will all be visiting the Titanic!