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2010 February 9 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Alabama Governor Candidates Eye Gambling To Boost Education Funding

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gov. Haley Barbour has let key lawmakers know how he proposes to cut $413 million from the state’s $5 billion budget, and some of them are worried that it cuts too deeply in the wrong places.

Lawmakers say the Republican governor has given key House members a list of the programs he wants to cut by nearly 10 percent, including community colleges, universities and K-12 public education.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said the information was in “working papers shared with lawmakers,” and he said the governor wouldn’t make the figures public.

House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, a Democrat, acknowledged cuts are unavoidable because the state’s revenue collection for the current budget year is projected to be $347 million below estimates. But Brown said Barbour wants to cut more than needed.

“Apparently he wants to take a cleaver to the budget,” Brown said.

Barbour gave House members the list ahead of an expected vote in that chamber on a Senate bill that gives him the authority to make the reductions. House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, a Democrat, had requested the information.

Under current law, Barbour cannot reduce any agency’s money by more than 5 percent until every agency has been cut by that percentage. Barbour has said the state’s declining revenue forces him to make deeper cuts, but he needs the 5 percent restriction lifted.

Brown said he doesn’t know if he’ll vote for the bill. He said he wanted more details from Barbour.

Barbour has reduced the budget by about $226 million so far this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Rep. John Mayo, a Democrat, released a copy of Barbour’s proposed cuts in an e-mail. Mayo said he’d like to see the governor use a combination of reserve money and budget reductions to minimize the cuts.

“The governor can access nearly $200 million in stimulus funds and rainy day funds that could alleviate some of the cuts,”said Mayo.

House Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Kelvin Buck said he’s worried about how higher education would be affected. Barbour’s plan calls for a 9.4 percent cut to colleges and universities.

“There comes a time cuts can do more damage than good. I think that’s what we’re facing now,” said Buck.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, a Republican, was glad the governor was protecting some areas.

Some programs are exempt from cuts, including millions of dollars directed to the state’s college desegregation settlement, other court orders and payments to teachers who receive national board certification. And some programs and agencies take smaller budget hits than others do. The Mississippi Department of Corrections would only be cut 3 percent.

“We can’t spend money that’s not coming in,” Nunnelee said. “It’s not pleasant to make cuts like that, but it is the responsible thing to do.”

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