Last night, Governor Barbour gave his annual State of the State Address. While any executive's (mayor, governor or President) "State of the..." address tends to include a laundry list of accomplishments and new initiatives, last night's address was a sobering reminder of the challenges we face. The Governor touched on the latest estimate on FY09's budget shortfall ($175-$315 million), challenged us to make the Rainy Day fund last for four years and gave the expected, but unfortunate news that K-12 education would be cut for this fiscal year.
However, it also turns out that many school districts had been putting aside their own "rainy day fund" in the event of such a budget downturn. The combined amount for Mississippi's school districts is over $500 million, significantly higher than the amount in the entire state's own Rainy Day Fund. How this will shake out for Mississippi's school districts remains to be seen. From what I've heard, the budget cut for K-12 will be under $100 million, which is less than the 5% cut we might have expected.
The Governor closed his speech by calling for several reforms to make state government more effective and efficient. He called for a study to look into privatizing Mississippi driver's license stations, as well as the ABC. He called for a new charter school law and for the House to consider a health insurance exchange for small businesses. These are reforms that are overdue in getting a fair shake from the legislature.
In the end, while getting the bad news, the Governor continued to look forward in setting a vision that could still move the state forward. Perhaps one of Governor Barbour's greatest leadership traits is the way he brings people together in times of uncertainty and calamity. I've noticed that even the staunchest of Democrats respect the man for his fiscal discipline and prudent approach during this economic downturn. To his own credit, Governor Barbour himself has also given a little on hiking the cigarette tax.
If both sides can actually talk and cooperate this session (at least on some things), we'll be able to navigate around the obstacles and still make progress. However, I admit I've had more coffee than normal this morning and am feeling unusually optimistic. We'll just see how it plays out.