Gubernatorial candidates talking taxes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Here’s an interesting scenario: We have two men running for governor in a time of economic woe and both are saying the same thing &045; NO NEW TAXES.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove says he believes the state can have a fiscally responsible budget without raising taxes by &8220;operating government agencies more efficiently,&8221; as he told members of the Mississippi School Boards Association.

This group is particularly dear to Musgrove’s heart because he is running as the education governor, the man who convinced the Legislature to pass a teacher pay raise and to fully fund education in a separate bill prior to passing any other budget measures.

Email newsletter signup

To his credit, Musgrove has shown that education must be a priority in Mississippi. He could not be more right.

That said, there is still the little problem of footing the bill. In the prior three years, Musgrove has been forced to cut spending, and some of that has come in the area of education. Teachers were the worst hit, forcing many to pay from their own pockets for some of the necessary supplies used in the classroom. Most teachers do it, though, because they know better than to wait for their state government to take care of them and the children they teach.

Of course, students were hurt as well. Some districts had to hold off purchasing new textbooks and equipment, forcing students to stay behind the learning curve.

Transportation was also in the red those years. Ask the manager of your local &8220;bus barn&8221; and see how tight funds were for gasoline and repairs &045; not to mention overtime pay for drivers.

But that changed this year, thanks to Musgrove and a willing Legislature. The state’s educational system should not be on the receiving end of a sharpened budget ax.

In fact, other agencies should fair pretty well, too. The Legislature &045; for this year, at least &045; reversed a 1992 law requiring that 2 percent of state tax collections to be held back as a rainy day fund. This year will be wet until the next session starts up, and that’s when the real storms should hit.

Depending on who you ask, the state is facing anywhere from a $500 million to a $750 million funding shortage in 2004. Take the lower amount if you want, it still constitutes a financial crisis when your state is that far behind in what it has to pay.

Still, both Musgrove and favored Republican candidate Haley Barbour insist Mississippi can get by with some simple belt-tightening.

Perhaps that is the case. Perhaps Musgrove and Barbour can agree on what many view as the single most important issue of this gubernatorial race: It’s the economy, stupid!

But who is more believable? In Barbour’s case, you have to look at the historic Republican position on the economy &045; cut spending, don’t raise taxes, even cut taxes if you can. One would have to think the former Ronald Reagan aide is going to stick to Republican economics.

In judging Musgrove, we have evidence of what he has done in the past. What sticks out the most is Musgrove’s willingness to expand Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program without having a funding mechanism in place.

However, Musgrove has routinely sent in budget proposals that contain far more conservative tax collection forecasts than what the Legislature has actually used in the past four years, thus overfunding, overspending and putting our state in a hole.

And there, my friends, lies the heart of the problem. It may not matter one iota what Musgrove and Barbour think. If the people of Mississippi do not elect a Legislature that is fiscally minded, spending will continue and taxes will rise.

Read any set of lips you like on that one.

Sam R. Hall

is publisher of The Times-Post. He can be reached by e-mail to