PLUNKETT: Look for politics to be played during legislative budget hearings this week.


BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett

Tuesday, September 30, begins the negotiations for leaders at the state Capitol to pull together a state budget for FY 2016. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves penned an Op-Ed this week to set the tone for his perception of what the state budget should address. As would be expected leading into a negotiation in an election year, he left much of the details of his proposals unclear. However, he did touch on a few items that indicate what he hopes to address, and he acknowledged the challenge of a still unstable economy.

He wrote:

While Mississippi has made progress in climbing out of the Great Recession, the state and entire country are seeing slow economic growth. Businesses have been slow to add employees to the rolls when facing expensive regulations from Washington, D.C., such as Obamacare.

The state is seeing revenue growth, but we still have a lot more good ideas than money. Difficult decisions must be made to focus taxpayer dollars on education at all levels and infrastructure needs.

Reeves mentioned the always politically stormy and big ticket item of education. But made no mention of the education issue that will blow gale force winds through the Capitol halls, #MAEP.

Over three years, spending on education from kindergarten to the university campus has grown almost $250 million. We cannot afford to view our education needs in silos. We need to look at Education with a capital “E”; Strong public schools, community colleges and universities each play an essential role in preparing the workforce for today’s economy.

Increased funds for Education coupled with continued reforms that boost literacy and produce more graduates will give our state a bright future.

What exactly is meant by “reform” remains to be seen.

What drama awaits?

During budget hearings in 2012, Reeves and the person who replaced him as state Treasurer, Lynn Fitch, sparred over her decision to suspend the MPACT college savings program. Fitch reported then that MPACT was only 76.8 percent funded, leaving a $94 million shortfall.

Experts say it must earn 7.8 percent a year to stay in the black, with college tuition increasing about 7 percent a year.

But Reeves, who formerly oversaw and ardently promoted MPACT during his eight years as treasurer, wasn’t happy with the decision telling Fitch during the budget hearing, “You can’t be so shortsighted as to look at one year’s performance. You have to look at long-term performance of the program going forward … I’ve said this before: Sometimes, for politicians, the long-term view just means until the next election.”

Yes, indeed. And the “next election” is upon us.

And who can forget the back and forth political battle between Reeves and Dept. Of Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz last year? Reeves had openly questioned Santa Cruz’s funding priorities at DPS. Political watchers were stunned in disbelief when Santa Cruz showed up at the budget hearings with a funding request for a whopping 45 percent increase, and no explanation of why he thought such a request was needed.

Political theater has been the name of the game at the budget hearings for the past two years. It should be no less dramatic this year with 2015 elections around the corner.

Look for *gasp* politics to be played at the Capitol this week.

Here’s the four day schedule of events.
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About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, government agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett

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