Sunday, February 15, 2004
The former lobbyist was smooth. Gov. Haley Barbour touched on a lot of issues that many Mississippians think are important in his first State of the State address last month. He also glided on by a few on which some say he should have dwelt. Barbour talked about education, creating jobs and developing the workforce. He spoke about quality health care, tort reform and cost-cutting measures, like making Medicaid more efficient and using private prisons.
He did not, however, address early childhood programs or funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). And he made it clear from the start: "My budget will state very clearly that we do not need to raise anybody's taxes—period," he said.he former lobbyist was smooth. Gov. Haley Barbour touched on a lot of issues that many Mississippians think are important in his first State of the State address last month. He also glided on by a few on which some say he should have dwelt. Barbour talked about education, creating jobs and developing the workforce. He spoke about quality health care, tort reform and cost-cutting measures, like making Medicaid more efficient and using private prisons. He did not, however, address early childhood programs or funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). And he made it clear from the start: "My budget will state very clearly that we do not need to raise anybody's taxes—period," he said.
Education, of a Fashion
Barbour had a number of suggestions that he said could help improve secondary and higher education. He proposed making teacher recruitment programs flexible enough to allow future teachers not to have to be education majors, and to include out-of-state students.
The new governor also supports teacher pay raises, and adjusting state pension policies to keep veteran teachers in the system even though they've met retirement eligibility. He supports initiating more charter schools, which allow more flexibility than traditional public schools.
He spoke of the need to adequately fund colleges and universities. "The largest increase in my budget will be to restore some of what has been cut from our universities and community colleges," Barbour said.
Barbour spent a good deal of his speech on the need to develop jobs and the workforce. "Job creation is a our state's most urgent need," he said, "and job creation is my immediate priority."
A Good Game
Some said that Barbour talked a good game during his address, but they wondered how he was going to stake that game. He didn't leave them hanging long before he unveiled his $3.6 billion budget and Operation Streamline, which he said would cut the state's $709 million deficit in half, and eliminate it in two years. But that could cost 700 jobs.
Barbour said that many of his proposals would not be popular and might not sit well with legislators. "I don't know if it'll work," he said, "but we're going to try it."
Opponents say his budget doesn't stand a chance. "It's just smoke and mirrors," said Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole. "It's never going to happen. First of all, the Legislature's not going to do it. He's about to see how little power the governor really has."
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, a member of the Legislative Budget Committee, said: "We don't know what we'll be able to do. We don't know if we'll be able to do any of what the governor wants, but we're looking at it."
Barbour's proposed budget would give universities and community colleges $100 million for workforce development. The State Board for Community and Junior Colleges oversees workforce training for manufacturing, retail and some service jobs, typically those that don't require four-year degrees. But the universities' mission of recruiting and helping students pursue degrees would now come under workforce development, according to Pam Smith, chief public affairs officer for the State College Board.
"We would receive about two-thirds of the $100 million," she said. The money would be used in any number of ways to help students get their degrees. "I know he (Barbour) is concerned about teachers," Smith said. "So it could possibly be used to help train teachers."
Bringing universities into the workforce development loop, and merging the Workforce Investment Board with the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges is part of Barbour's plan to maximize the states's ability to effectively train people for jobs that are needed, and provide employees with the training they need from a "user-friendly" system that works like one-stop shopping.
Barbour said during his State of the State that at least 10 agencies in the state are currently involved in workforce training, and that it would make more sense to give more of the "franchise" to the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges. They have a "proven record of performance" he said, and a "well-deserved reputation" for tailoring programs to fit specific needs.
The State Board for Community and Junior Colleges oversees state monies for workforce development while the Workforce Investment Board oversees federal monies under the purview of the Mississippi Development Authority, which Barbour proposes to give $5 million to develop jobs.
Department of Labor, Please
But an element from the one-stop shop is missing, according to Cole. "The only way you can really develop a strong workforce, especially with skilled laborers, is to have a strong apprenticeship program. You have to have people with years of experience taking employees under their wings—teaching them. This is on-the-job training; it's not something you can get in a classroom."
Cole said he is proposing that a Department of Labor be created so that education, apprenticeships and economic development can all be addressed at the same source.
Barbour proposes using $336 million worth of one-time use funds, and projects a savings of $283 million by closely managing and changing some practices at some state agencies and programs. He says that he can cut costs by $130 million from Medicaid, $34 million from the Department of Corrections, $54 million from the state health insurance plan and $26 million from universities and colleges, which he says should consolidate purchasing and business operations. He says the Mississippi State Board of Mental Health could save $11 million by consolidating purchasing and other business operations, as well.
Using private prisons will save the state millions, Barbour says. He proposes closing several outdated units at the State Penitentiary at Parchment, and housing those inmates in private facilities. In fiscal year 2002, Mississippi spent $36.79 a day for inmates in state facilities. By law, private prisons have to house prisoners for at least 10 percent less. The average cost per day at the four private facilities the state currently uses was $32.11 in fiscal 2004.
"My goal is to house prisoners at the least cost," Barbour said.
Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, originally appointed by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, has also said that using private prisons could save millions. Epps is moving on the governor's plan to use more private prisons. The Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood, which was closed two years ago, may be reopened as early as April 1. Musgrove closed the facility because he wanted to redirect funding to education and jobs.
"He's saying using private prisons is going to save money," Brown said of Barbour, "so we'll see."
Epps is considering proposals from private companies interested in running the facility, according to Suzanne Singletary of MDOC. Reopening the facility could provide 200 jobs.
Barbour also asked the Legislature to give him the authority to house state prisoners of various classifications at the privately run Tallahatchie Correctional County Authority. Alabama had housed prisoners there, but the state is now moving them back because its prison population has dropped. The first bill that Barbour signed into law would keep that facility open.
Medicaid, Under the Ax
Barbour also has targeted Medicaid for cost cutting. He wants to look at the price of pharmaceuticals, eligibility requirements and disease management strategies. But the new Medicaid director, Dr. Warren Jones, told the Medicaid Committee that the agency is already very efficiently using state funds. He said that he and his staff would look for savings, however. About 12 percent of Medicaid's $3.2 billion dollar budget comes from the state. The federal government matches state dollars three to one.
Medicaid requested $532 million for fiscal year 2005, but Barbour is proposing $402 million, a $100 million increase over the Legislative Budget Committee's recommendation.
Jones told the Medicaid Committee that the division's shortfall has to be addressed first, and then strategies for disease management and health prevention programs could be explored.
Jones said that the Department of Human Services makes two of three eligibility determinations because many of the people who receive Medicaid also receive services from DHS. He said both agencies would look at eligibility guidelines.
So that he can more easily cut state jobs, Barbour wants to remove the DHS, Division of Medicaid, Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Narcotics, Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi Development Authority, the Department of Finance and Administration, and the Department of Employment Security from under the supervision of the State Personnel Board until July 1, which he says will save $25 million in administrative costs.
While some lawmakers have said that agencies need to be pruned, Cole agrees with state employees who say it's dangerous to allow the agencies to be taken out from under the protection of the state personnel board. "He just wants to be able to fire anybody he wants, and bring in his cronies," Cole said, "and the people who actually do the work will be out of a job."
DHS head Don Taylor, who was criticized for the way he ran the agency under Gov. Fordice, has said he doesn't foresee any wholesale firings, and Jones has said that capable, dedicated Medicaid employees "know they are in a good position."
Barbour projects savings of $54 million by revamping the state's health-care plan. He says he wants to give employees more options in their insurance coverage. But state officials say there will be no need for choices if the financially troubled plan is not bailed out before this fiscal year ends. Under state law, state employees' entire premium must be paid. At the end of last year, the plan covered almost 190,000 individuals, including teachers and state employees, their dependents and retirees.
The governor's budget and the Legislative Budget Committee recommendations are on the table. Now it's up to the lawmakers to decide.
Barbour Faces Budget Opposition ... especially on education cuts. The Clarion-Ledger reports today: On Tuesday, dozens of lawmakers ó mostly GOP allies ó gathered with Barbour to pledge support for the changes. "I'm willing to make the tough decisions ... if you'll join me and you'll let me," said Barbour, who distributed small calculators to legislators as symbols of his cost-saving intentions. The Senate has 28 co-sponsors of Barbour's legislation ó more than the majority needed for passage. But support in the House is not so apparent. McCoy of Rienzi said he won't support sharp reductions in K-12 education, including teacher layoffs, and will oppose job reductions for state workers. "Layoffs for teachers is not acceptable to us," he said. Barbour's proposal for public education matches the recommendations of legislative budget writers. He told educators at a meeting Friday that while he hoped money could be gotten for K-12, "my priority is to keep community colleges and universities from being cut $100 million." McCoy also favors one health insurance plan for state workers. Barbour has proposed offering options to state employees, an idea that has had many employees worried benefit costs will go up. http://www.clarionledger.com/news/0402/18/ma01.html