Things are tough all over

By By Sid Salter
March 27, 2002
State Tax Commission Chairman Ed Buelow seems to never miss a chance to heave a few stones at Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Natural, I suppose. Musgrove is a Democrat and Buelow is a Vicksburg Republican appointed by former Gov. Kirk Fordice.
Earlier in the legislative session, Buelow disputed Musgrove's claims over raising one-time cash through a tax collection escalation on Big Business only to retreat from the dispute once House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Billy McCoy took up the idea.
Now comes Buelow like Chicken Little warning that Mississippians aren't going to get their state income tax refund checks on time and blaming that fact on Musgrove. Buelow blames 5 percent budget cuts in each of the last two years and a $20 million reduction of legislative funding from his agency's funding request in this year's budget for the tax refund check slowdown.
Saying the slowdown could be from three to six months, Buelow claims he needs $400,000 to hire temporary staffers and pay overtime to permanent employees to get the refunds processed. He admitted the late refunds could cost the state $2 million interest due to taxpayers. Not his fault, Buelow says.
For his part, Musgrove isn't buying it. "The Tax Commission leadership has not managed well the resources to make sure that it can provide the services to our people," Musgrove told the press.
What isn't being talked about is the fact that Musgrove and Buelow aren't on the best of terms. It's like oil and vinegar.
Musgrove's chief of staff Bill Renick said the governor had early in his term asked Buelow to step down from the commission and that the former Vicksburg legislator and hog farmer had declined. Clearly, that doesn't make for the best of relationships and Buelow's drumbeat of gubernatorial criticism bears that out. There's also no doubt that the professional staffers at the Tax Commission have had a thankless job to do with less money the last two years like many others.
But Buelow's retort that Musgrove had not "cut my duties, you cut my money" is one that rings a little hollow.
Things are tough all over
There is no state agency not schools or colleges, not social and medical service agencies, not charity hospitals, not prisons, not mental health facilities, nothing that hasn't been hit with budget cuts this year. Things are tough all over.
None of these entities has been spared. None of these entities has seen its "duties cut" either. They've seen their "money cut," just like Buelow's agency. They just aren't whining about it.
Like the teachers, the nurses, the social workers, the prison guards and the rest, the employees and the professional staff at the State Tax Commission deserve our respect and our thanks for the difficult job they do. They aren't the problem.
But the political appointees like Buelow in patronage jobs might do well to do a little more managing and little less political blackmail. Because any way you slice it, that's what is happening here. Buelow cries that the refund checks will be late. The public chews on legislators and suddenly there's a deficit appropriation. That's what Ed is after.
When that happens and it likely will your kid's public school teacher will still be buying school supplies out of her paycheck because the state has cut the budget. Other professionals in state government like the furloughed assistant district attorneys will still do without.
Buelow's protestations aside, the truth is that the Legislature bears at least equal responsibility for the state's budget woes with the governor. Blaming Musgrove for late refund checks might be good politics, but it has little to do with the truth. I'm lots more worried about the public schools than the Tax Commission.

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