By: Governor Haley Barbour
May 17, 2004

LEGISLATURE SHOULD BE THANKED FOR 2004 REGULAR SESSION

This has been a hard budget year that required many tough choices. The Legislature passed some significant legislation and an honest budget with no deficits and no tax increases. That budget is a major achievement. While I would have made some different choices, and we still will have a lot more to do next year, I commend our legislators for making difficult choices. Legislative leaders and all who played a role in this process deserve praise and gratitude for their accomplishment. I want to personally thank the Legislature for passing many of the requests in my “State of the State Address” and much of my “Operation: Streamline” budget.

Savings Over Spending
We turned the corner this Legislative Session in how state government operates during a budget crisis. We have moved from an emphasis on spending to an emphasis on saving and streamlining, living within our means.

The Legislature passed more than $200 million in savings, mostly from “Operation: Streamline.” This is the largest savings total in state budget history. Some one-time money was used to avoid more difficult cuts – like tobacco trust fund money – but our budget shortfall, projected at $709 million, was reduced to $401 million, and raids on special funds next year will be reduced by two-thirds.

We made real progress in our goal to eliminate the shortfall in two years, with no tax increases.

Workforce Development + Tort Reform = Job Creation
During this Session, we were able to overhaul our workforce development programs. For the first time, workforce development initiatives in Mississippi will streamline state and federal delivery systems and encourage private enterprise job training. I am pleased that the Legislature accepted these job training proposals.

The Legislature honored the promise many of us made on the campaign trail: “No tax increases.” This is a brave stance that not only helps restores budget responsibility, but helps recruit new industry to Mississippi as well.

The missing piece of our job creation plan, however, is tort reform. Ending lawsuit abuse in Mississippi is an immediate need that must be addressed this year. This week I have called a Special Session on tort reform, to begin Wednesday, May 19, at 1:00 p.m.

Education Did NOT Get a BAD Check
We fully funded next year’s teacher pay raise, and I am pleased that schools will receive $51 million more in state support thru this year. Since school districts saved $82 million of what the state gave them last year, nearly all will have more money to actually spend. Importantly, we did not write education a bad check. They can plan accordingly and not have to worry about mid-year cuts. If necessary, school districts can defer savings -- for one year -- to insure for sufficient spending as we try to end this budget crisis.

I was also pleased that the Legislature passed our teacher recruitment enhancements and expanded alternative certification. Mississippi schools need more than twice the number of new teachers as join the profession annually. This legislation helps recruit non-education majors into teaching through alternate certification and allows all students to compete for key teaching scholarships, if they agree to teach in shortage areas or subjects.

Mississippi is Safest Place to be an Unborn Child
Passage of our “Conscience Exception” bill allowing health care providers to refuse to perform abortions without fear of retribution, and other pro-life laws passed this Session, will make Mississippi arguably the safest place for an unborn child in America today.

Voter ID
Another issue that was not resolved this Session was voter ID. Fair and honest elections in Mississippi require the enactment of a Voter ID law for all voters. Voter ID does not represent intimidation; it represents integrity. I have included Voter ID legislation in my Special Session call.

Working Together
We will look back on the 2004 Regular Session and say it was very productive. Many parts of state government will change for the better. This Session will be remembered as a time when we began our climb out of our budget hole and refocused our efforts on job creation. Our state government streamlining efforts are not complete. We are already working on “Operation: Streamline 2” to look for additional cost-savings we can use to help erase the rest of Mississippi’s budget shortfall.

Before I became Governor I read many accounts about how hard it is for the Governor and the Legislature to work together in Mississippi. While we had many difficult issues, I did not find that to be the case. This Legislature has been very good to my proposals, because many legislators, Democrats and Republicans, campaigned on the same issues and solutions I ran on. I appreciate them, and you should, too.

 


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Governor Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139 Jackson, MS 39205
Phone: 601.359.3150 Fax: 601.359.3741