Economic woes vindicate,’ Musgrove says

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2001

[05/23/01] In Vicksburg Tuesday, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said signs of economic trouble in Mississippi vindicate the fiscally cautious stand he took in a budget battle with legislators this year.

Musgrove said the $3.6 billion spending plan lawmakers passed over his veto in March has jeopardized the state’s economic health.

“You can’t budget on hope,” Musgrove said. “You have to budget on reality.”

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Musgrove said the Legislature’s prediction of 3.7 percent growth was too optimistic and argued that the state should plan for 1 percent growth. But lawmakers easily mustered enough votes to override the governor.

“If we had acted according to the governor’s numbers, agencies would have been devastated,” said state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, in response. “They’re having trouble making ends meet now. Think of all the trouble they’d have had under a 1 percent budget.”

Flaggs said he isn’t pessimistic about the state of the Mississippi economy, citing an increase in revenue collections in April.

“I really think we might be about to turn the corner,” Flaggs said.

Musgrove was in Vicksburg for an interview by staff of The Vicksburg Post. It was his third trip to the city in 10 days. Last week he spoke to a manufacturers’ group and appeared with Entergy Mississippi President Carolyn Shanks at an event to raise private-sector money for computers for schools.

Musgrove said the Legislature’s spending plan, which goes into effect July 1, doesn’t bode well for a state already threatened by business closings, layoffs and rising energy costs.

Linking economic prosperity with strong public schools, Musgrove also repeated that lawmakers should be guaranteeing teachers the full benefits of a five-year pay raise plan passed in 2000. The first installment of the raises was granted this year as a one-time appropriation of $21 million. Legislators did not amend the basic teacher salary schedule to reflect this year’s increase or those in the next three years.

“I believe that the Legislature’s priorities are skewed,” Musgrove said. “They let funding for things like private prisons drive the budget over the needs of our schools.”

Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, said the legislative provision that teacher raises won’t be paid unless there’s a 5 percent growth in state revenues is the kind of fiscal safeguard the governor should support.

“If we don’t have revenues coming in, we won’t have revenues going out,” Masterson said.