Governor: We must act now

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 10, 2001

AP and staff reports

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove says Mississippi legislators should move swiftly next week to erase restrictions on a teacher pay-raise plan – and he’ll help pay for their special session, if needed.

”We have to act now,” Musgrove said in a written statement Monday.

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He didn’t respond directly to Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford, who issued a letter early Monday calling for Musgrove to reschedule the July 18 session.

Some local teachers, like Gloria Warren, a teacher at Central Alternative School, believe the teacher pay issue should be addressed as soon as possible.

&uot;Teachers need pay raises. They should be valued more than they are,&uot; Warren said. &uot;After all, we’re taking care of parents’ children every day and educating them as well.

&uot;Why not settle this issue and move forward?&160;We have to decide what is valuable and what isn’t,&uot; she said.

Special sessions cost about $30,000 a day. Tuck and Ford say calling lawmakers back to Jackson for only one issue is a waste of money.

Musgrove said Monday if money is an issue, ”then I will personally raise the funds to reimburse the state for the cost of the special session, because it is that important.”

He also said: ”The most important thing here is education. Five years from now, people won’t be concerned with the cost of a one-day special session; they will be happy that Mississippi is able to recruit and retain the finest teachers in the nation.”

The governor didn’t say how he’d raise money of cover costs of a session. He was on vacation and wasn’t available to answer questions.

Only a governor can call a special session, and only he can say what will be considered.

Tuck and Ford suggested Musgrove put the teacher pay issue on the agenda when he calls a special session for congressional redistricting, as he’s expected to do later this year. That session hasn’t been set.

”We are looking for every available dollar and we believe the state and our taxpayers would be better served if we can combine tasks on their behalf,” Ford and Tuck said in their letter.

In announcing last Friday that he wants legislators at the Capitol July 18 to tackle teacher pay, the governor said the issue is important enough to warrant its own special session. Musgrove wants lawmakers to kill a provision in state law that ties teacher raises to economic growth.

Tuck, 21 senators and 18 House members are scheduled to attend a Southern Legislative Conference meeting in Georgia July 14-18. Ford is scheduled to preside over a meeting the same day as the special session.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said the state could lose money if lawmakers have to change their plane reservations to return from the conference early.

A multimillion dollar teacher pay package passed during the 2000 session is intended to raise Mississippi teacher salaries to the projected Southeastern average of about $41,000 by the 2005-2006 school year.

The plan says teachers will get raises automatically only if the state budget grows by at least 5 percent a year. If growth is below 5 percent, lawmakers must vote separately to grant the raises.

The state budget grew about 2.1 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and is expected to grow less than 5 percent in the current budget year.

Tuck wrote the 5 percent provision at a time the teacher pay plan was in danger of dying. She defended it for more than a year as a budget safeguard. On Friday, she said the state needs to remove the 5 percent provision.

House Appropriations Chairman Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, said the teacher pay plan will restrict how much lawmakers can spend on other state programs, but he supports the package.

”I think we can pass it in the House in five minutes, and I assume the Senate will, too,” Capps said.

Musgrove for months has been feuding with legislative leaders about teacher pay, budgets and other issues. Sen. Terry Burton, D-Newton, called for an end to the squabbling.

”We absolutely have to stop the bickering between the Legislature and the governor’s office,” Burton said.By Ben Hillyer