Candidates should explain tax situation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

During a gubernatorial debate hosted by the Mississippi Press Association last weekend, Democrat Gilbert Fountain said if he was elected governor that he would talk to the highway commissioners and find out where the worst intersections in the state were. Once Fountain identified the hot spots, he said he would instruct the highway department to fix said intersections so there &8220;wouldn’t be so much road rage in our state.&8221;

If that makes you chuckle, try this on for size:

All four candidates present &045; Republicans Haley Barbour and Mitch Tyner and Democrats Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Fountain &045; said they believe Mississippi can stay afloat without a tax increase next year.

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Barbour believes the state can use federal money to help &8220;dig us out of the hole we’re in,&8221; while at the same time controlling spending.

He has routinely pointed to the fact that the Legislature has spent one-time money over the past three years to help cover budget expenditures. On his Web site, Barbour said the Legislature used one-time funds and accelerated the collection of withholding taxes to drum up $500 million to pay bills this year. In the end, he claims the state is still running at a $100 million deficit.

Of course, that deficit will not hit education, which of course is a hot-button topic. And Barbour is making the connection between the bad state fiscal policies and Musgrove’s push for funding education first this year, something many &045; including this writer &045; have called a political stunt from the time he made his declaration.

&8220;The first thing I think we need for education is stable funding. Record appropriations in election years, after you have cut colleges and universities $99 million the three years before, won’t get it. Yo-yo funding is not the way to run any kind of business and the same is true about education,&8221; Barbour said during a speech to the Mississippi Economic Council in May.

But attacking Musgrove on education is going to be a hard sell. First, he is assured the endorsement by the Mississippi Teacher’s Association. Secondly, in cutting funding due to bad budgeting practices over the past three years, Musgrove has saved education until last. Finally, political stunt or not, Musgrove called for funding of education first and fully, and the Legislature did it. The stunt worked, and it should be the norm from here on out.

Furthermore, to his credit, Musgrove has been the &8220;voice of reason&8221; &045; if there has been such a thing &045; on fiscal responsibility over the past three years. (That statement is made relative to the amount of fiscal ill-reason demonstrated by the Legislature.) The governor’s budget proposals have at least used more conservative revenue estimates than were cited by lawmakers.

Too, Musgrove has now called for the formation of the Commission on Revenue Estimates, which has a two-fold purpose. First, Musgrove said that such a commission would help bring about more realistic estimates to be used in the budgeting process.

The second part of his reasoning for creating such a commission is to give the governor’s office just a little more influence in the budgeting process, something his office now lacks.

Is there weight to Barbour’s claims that the budget can be set straight by controlling spending? Yes. But can we do so by continuing to offer the same level of services? Barbour says yes, but many do not see how.

Likewise, how Musgrove is going to do something over the next four years that he has failed to do in the past four years &045; get government spending under control and save the state from a financial meltdown &045; is a mystery.

No tax increases? Yeah, we’ve read your lips. We’re still waiting to read them when you tell us exactly how you plan on accomplishing such a feat. At least we know how Fountain is going to cure road rage in Mississippi.

E-mail Sam Hall at