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Musgrove and the state budget

By By Terry R. Cassreino / Assistant Managing Editor
June 8, 2003
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove no doubt had good intentions when he proposed re-vamping the state budget process by letting economists, bankers and businessmen tell lawmakers how much money they can spend each year.
Musgrove, a Democrat running for a second term this fall, said he wants to make sure he and the Legislature craft an accurate revenue estimate for lawmakers to use when writing the budget.
But in his zeal to grab the spotlight, the governor missed a chance to push an issue that has even more potential to change state finances a complete overhaul of the budget-writing process.
Forget Musgrove's revenue estimate proposal and, instead, take a closer look at the Mississippi Legislature's needlessly complicated process of crafting the state's annual budget.
Mississippi House and Senate members voted earlier this year, during their three-month session that started in January, to spend about $10 billion during the fiscal year that starts July 1. Simple, right?
Think again. The state budget actually is composed of more than 100 separate bills. Each one funds a specific state program or agency, and each one must be voted on by the state House and Senate. It's a piecemeal system, one in which most rank-and-file House and Senate members never at any time during the budget-writing process have a complete overview of state spending.
They'll vote to fund the state health department or public safety, for example, unaware how their action will affect other state agencies or if it will reduce the amount of cash that might go to another area.
Closed system
In fact, the only people with any knowledge of overall state spending are the top four legislative leaders the lieutenant governor, House speaker and chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees.
It's been like that for years a political system that concentrates power among a few legislative leaders, letting them maintain authority by literally controlling knowledge of and access to the state's purse strings.
It's also a system that has drawn the ire of many statewide officials through the years, including former Govs. Ray Mabus and Kirk Fordice.
Mabus, a Democrat, and Fordice, a Republican, favored using one budget bill to fund all state agencies and programs a move that would give everyone a better, more complete picture of state spending.
But their proposals went no where. And with no one out-front pushing the issue today, chances are slim it will find wholesale support among top legislative leaders and the general public.
Musgrove had a chance to re-visit that issue last week, but chose another approach. With six months before the November election and eight months before the start of the 2004 Legislature in January, he still has time to make it an issue again that is if he is interested in true budget reform.
Hurricane plan
Musgrove and Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster released their Interstate 59 hurricane evacuation plan Wednesday for moving South Mississippi and Southeast Louisiana residents out of the path of a killer storm.
The plan will use north and south lanes of I-59 to send evacuees north into Mississippi. I-59, essentially, would become a four-lane, one-way evacuation route for Mississippi and Louisiana drivers. Musgrove nixed a version of the plan last year, angering many Southeast Louisiana residents. The new version calls for better coordination between Mississippi and Louisiana emergency management officials.
The only questions: Did it really have to take nearly eight months to develop the plan? And why was it released after the June 1 start of what many forecasters say could be an active 2003 hurricane season?

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