JACKSON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday the sluggish economy and disappointing tax collections forced him to shave $54.3 million from the nearly $6 billion state budget.
It was the second round of cuts since the fiscal year started July 1, and the reductions now total more than $226 million. That means most agencies have lost about 5 percent of their money. Barbour said he expects another $160 million will have to be taken out of the budget before June 30.
November marked the 15th consecutive month Mississippi”s tax collections fell short of projections.
“When the Legislature spent more money than we had, it falls on the governor to make the savings, which I do,” said Barbour, who signed the budget into law in July.
Responding to a question about whether he”d take a political hit, Barbour said he makes the cuts “without apology or without any concern about the politics of it.”
“It doesn”t make any difference what the politics are. It”s got to be done,” said Barbour, who can”t seek a third term in 2011. “That”s one of the things about being governor. Sometimes you just do what you have to do.”
Under state law, a governor may not cut any agency”s budget by more than 5 percent until he cuts every agency”s budget by at least that amount.
Schools, community colleges and universities lost 5 percent in the first round of cuts in September and were not affected by the new round.
Barbour said the new cuts include a 5 percent reduction in Medicaid spending, which will take effect in February. He said he wants to give physicians and other Medicaid providers time to get used to the idea that their payments from the state will be reduced.
Medicaid spokesman Francis Rullan said he doesn”t know whether all types of providers — hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacists and others — will be equally affected by the reduction. He said patients in the health care program for the needy should not worry.
“The thing I”m most concerned about is that beneficiaries not become anxious that they”re going to lose services,” Rullan said.
Some parts of the budget remain unscathed. Barbour said the Department of Corrections budget has been cut by only 1 percent. The state is not reducing its payments on long-term debt, and Barbour did not cut the pay supplements for teachers who earn high levels of national certification to improve their classroom skills.
Some agency directors who have already lost 5 percent of their money say they”re preparing for the possibility that they”ll lose more in the next few months. One of them is Trudy Fisher, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Fisher said her agency”s budget was cut in September and it has left some jobs unfilled. She said employees also are trying to reduce their travel.
“We”ve just been very mindful of the economy,” Fisher said.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.