May 6, 2004

First, thank you for sharing your email address with me so that I can periodically update you on what we’re trying to do.

Budget Hole
During the campaign, I noted that Mississippi was in the worst financial shape ever. My first three months in office have certainly confirmed that.

Budget projections for the upcoming fiscal year (which begins July 1) said the state government’s general fund spending would be $709 million more than its regular income. This was after several years of raiding special funds, trust funds and spending more than the state has.

“Operation: Streamline”

To address the budget crisis, I proposed my “Operation: Streamline” budget – to reduce the shortfall by half, from $709 million to $356 million, the first year and to totally eliminate it the following year. This is far and away the largest proposal for savings in state history. It would also cut the raid on special funds in half in FY 05 with a goal of eliminating the practice the following year.

The Senate has passed nearly all these savings proposals. The House has adopted some. Hopefully, all of them will be passed at the end of the day; otherwise, there will not be nearly enough money to properly fund critical areas like education.

There are no politically popular solutions to our fiscal crisis – we started off too far in the hole. But we must adopt an honest budget that makes legitimate savings and funds priorities appropriately. The worst thing we could do is appropriate money for schools that won’t really be there when the time comes to pay the bills. That would result in mid-year cuts. I won’t be part of giving education a “bad check.”

The “95% Solution” For Education

After the revelation that Mississippi’s 152 school districts have built up a “rainy day fund” of $350 million by setting aside 5% of their appropriation each year, school districts should be asked not to save 5% of their state funding in the coming fiscal year and the State should fund districts at 95% of this year’s level. Combined, these measures would provide 100% funding for education. This plan would not be budget reduction, but rather budget responsibility.

Under this plan, with no new savings taken out of next year’s state funding, appropriating education funds at 95% of this year’s level would allow the same spending level next year, and no money would be taken from any savings funds balance. It would only mean that no more state money would be added to the already large school district savings funds.

Superintendents should be looking out for their districts – I would be if I were they. However, I have to look out for the State of Mississippi during a budget crisis. We have asked and required all of state government to cut and cut and cut over the last couple of years. Now we should ask superintendents – for just one year – simply not to save even more. That’s a great bargain for our schools.

Ending Lawsuit Abuse

Ending lawsuit abuse in Mississippi continues to be a critical goal. Lawsuit abuse is an enormous obstacle to job creation and economic growth in our state. Those who dispute this are ignoring the obvious facts and the repeated evidence of harm that is apparent to people all over the country. We cannot solve our problems by ignoring them or sweeping them under the rug. We must address them head on, solve them, and then go on to other issues—of which we have plenty. Help me resolve lawsuit abuse by making sure your legislators know your views on this crucial subject. Urge them to act – whether they agree with me on everything or not. We need to end lawsuit abuse and end it this year.

I’m pleased that the Senate has voted overwhelmingly for comprehensive tort reform three times. Regrettably, the House has not been allowed to vote on any tort reform bill at all. There can be no reconciling of the Senate and House positions until the House is allowed to vote and establish its position.

The opponents of tort reform seem to recognize that a majority of House members would vote for a comprehensive bill – and that is why no vote has been allowed. I will continue to fight for tort reform. I hope it will be adopted during this regular session because there’s no reason to do tomorrow what you can do today. However, if the forces against tort reform prevent that, I will call a special session.

Voter ID

Another issue still to be completed is a voter ID requirement. Both houses have passed bills, but there are a couple of very significant differences. The largest and most important is over granting an exemption from the requirement to voters 65 and older (born before 1940) – which the House wants to do. This would be terrible policy. The main purpose of a voter ID requirement is to prevent the electoral fraud of one person voting while using someone else’s name. The most obvious opportunity is to pretend to be someone who has died but whose name has not been removed from the voter roles. Of course, most of the people in the cemetery were born before 1940 – but anyone pretending to be such a person would not have to show any identification if the exemption were permitted. This exemption must be removed from the bill. Even the federal law that Hillary Clinton, Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry supported does not have an exemption from its voter ID requirement for older people. Seniors are already accustomed to showing ID for Medicare benefits, Social Security, banking, traveling, etc. An age exemption would be both counterproductive and unnecessary.

Workforce Training / Job Creation

Both houses have also been very receptive and helpful on our comprehensive workforce development/ job training reform proposal. Both houses have passed the conference report, and the bill should be on my desk soon. I appreciate everybody’s help – and I believe our streamlined system will pay hefty returns in short order. In fact, the federal government tells us it will adopt many of our changes for their program. Employers and potential and current employees should see a difference soon.

All the above initiatives will help create and retain more and better-paying jobs. The most urgent, immediate need for Mississippi is job creation, and I’m making that my #1 priority. I am proud to have been a part of four major industrial recruitment announcements since taking office. I am also pleased that unemployment has fallen significantly in the last several weeks. We are now well under national unemployment, with a lot going on in our region.

Of course, creating jobs means not raising taxes. I’m pleased that there has been very little sentiment for tax increases, despite a recent flurry in the House. I’m against raising anybody’s taxes and most legislators are, too.

Conscience Exception

I am happy to report on one of the items I mentioned in my “State of the State Address” and worked hard for this Session. Thanks to your help, we were able to pass a law that gives health care providers the right to refuse, without fear of retribution, to perform abortions if abortion goes against their conscience. Your Legislature was very supportive of this measure – please thank them.

Your Local Newspaper

As always, I need your help in getting our message out to other Mississippians. Look at the attached list of newspaper links and send a “Letter to the Editor” to your local paper supporting one of these topics. Believe me, it makes a difference.

Your Legislature

Look at the attached list of legislators and e-mail them about one of these topics as well. Thank them for their support or urge them to act on issues you care about.

Your Friends, Family & Co-workers

Forward this email to your friends, family and co-workers. It’s the easiest way to spread the news.

Raise Your Sights

Working together, we will make Mississippi a better place. It may be tough at times, but I relish the challenge. Working together and raising our sights, I know that there is nothing Mississippians cannot achieve.

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Governor Haley Barbour
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Phone: 601.359.3150 Fax: 601.359.3741