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Snowden: 2004 Legislature has shot at greatness

By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
April 12, 2004
With one month left to go in the 2004 Legislature, state House and Senate members will be scrambling the next four weeks, working on compromise bills and the state budget.
State Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, shared his thoughts about the four-month legislative session and talked about what to expect the next month in an interview with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: How does the 2004 legislative session compare with other ones in which you have participated?
Greg Snowden: This session has brought a fresh realism to the Legislature. There is much new leadership in both chambers and, of course, in the governor's office.
We have a real chance this session to resolve several critical issues for which solutions have proved elusive in the past, including Voter ID, tort reform, positive job creation, the streamlining of governmental services, and, most importantly, the adoption of an honest budget as the foundation of a sound state fiscal policy.
If the Legislature exhibits the political courage to do what is right instead of worrying about what is popular, then 2004 could be one of the most productive sessions in recent memory.
The Star: How do you see the state budget and key areas of funding, such as economic development and public education, faring this year?
Snowden: For the past four years, our state has spent millions of dollars more than we have received as revenue that is fact, not opinion.
It is essential that the Legislature enact Gov. Barbour's comprehensive two-year plan to streamline state government and to get our expenditures back within our revenues.
Honest solutions will be neither painless nor popular, and many spending cuts will have to be made. Job creation and education remain the top funding priorities of the Legislature, but even these areas likely will not be funded to the levels we'd like.
It is unrealistic for any element of the state budget to be "off the table" in the appropriations process, and irresponsible to "fully fund" any part of the budget regardless of its high priority without first considering whether remaining monies will be sufficient to adequately fund other essential needs.
The Star: The state House voted earlier this session to raise more than $17 million in fee increases. What is your take on the bill?
Snowden: I oppose House Bill 1279, in part because of the fee increases which actually total closer to $36 million, but also because that bill exacerbates instead of curbs our addiction to overspending.
For example, the bill would rob $132.4 million from special funds without any provision for repayment, and would raise the revenue estimate to arguably an artificially optimistic level.
I agree with Gov. Barbour that using "funny money" is no way to craft a responsible state budget. I am not interested in the semantic argument about whether a particular hike is a fee or a tax it is all the same to whomever has to pay it.
Some hikes in fees (or even taxes) may in fact be justified, but the larger problem is getting control of chronic overspending. Unless and until we find the political will to restrict our spending to no more than our revenues, we will continue to face budgetary shortfalls and no amount of new taxes or fees will ever be enough to quell the insatiable urge to spend.