Area leaders speak out on Musgrove’s plan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2001

From improving education to attracting new industry, the themes of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s state of the state address Thursday were familiar topics to local officials and lawmakers.

But increasing talk of state budget shortfalls and possible cutbacks raises questions of those goals will be funded.

Rep. Andrew Ketchings, R-Natchez, said he agrees with many of Musgrove’s ideas, but is wary of promises without the money to back them up.

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&uot;It’s easy to talk about those problems, but he didn’t mention where the money would come from and that concerns me,&uot; Ketchings said.

Those problems includes the need for teacher pay raises, possible cuts in state funding for economic development and improving healthcare in rural portions of the state.

Musgrove asked legislators to remove a condition from the teacher pay raise initiative passed last spring that requires a five percent increase in state revenues.

Unlike Ketchings, Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, said he strongly supports removing the 5-percent condition, which he said was only included in the bill to ensure passage.

&uot;I’m hoping it will be eliminated this year, but I don’t know if it will happen,&uot; he said.

Dr. Carl Davis, Natchez-Adams School District superintendent, also believes the condition should be removed and teachers deserve an increase in pay.

&uot;It’s good to know we have a governor that is committed to education,&uot; Davis said.

But he also recognizes the limitations of an inadequate budget when faced with a $289,000 deficit himself.

West sees a connection between Musgrove’s goals. With teacher pay raises and improved education will come economic development and a strong tax base for funding healthcare and housing for senior citizens. Musgrove said anaylsts predict an 84 percent increase in the state’s elderly population over the next 25 years.

James Johnston, community development coordinator, said he was surprised to learn how high the estimates were, but believes Natchez is preparing with renovations to the Natchez Senior Citizen Multi-Purpose Center and conversion of Carpenter School No. 1 into elderly apartments.

But West isn’t so confident. &uot;I don’t think we’re prepared for that at the moment and I don’t think we’re going to be prepared until some of these things are improved,&uot; he said, returning to education and economic development.