It’s budget time again for the Mississippi Legislature.
More money is needed to fund schools, community colleges, universities, highways, Medicaid, Corrections, public safety, mental health, and so on.
Oh, and a tax cut too.
Revenue growth can cover part, but not all. So, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee will, once again, painstakingly pick winners and losers from the vast array of agencies that make up state government.
Some will get more, some the same, and a few less. But none is likely to be zeroed out.
Unsuccessful businesses get closed every day. Banks regularly merge and/or shut down unproductive operations. But not government. That’s because government behaves more like kudzu than business. Despite attempts to prune here and there, it just grows and grows.
Experts say long-term control of kudzu requires a process to kill or remove the kudzu “root crown” and all “rooting runners.”
That’s the Legislature’s dilemma. Every agency has a “root crown,” a powerful legislator, state official, or business group. All have “rooting runners.” Take on a university and you take on the alumni; take on the Cooperative Extension Service and you take on the county agents and their friendly farmers, foresters, tomato growers, and quilters; take on Medicaid and you take on poor folks, nursing homes, children of nursing home clients, and the medical community; take on tax breaks and incentives and you take on economic developers and local officials; take on schools and you take on parents, teachers, and their formidable allies.
Taking on agency root crowns and rooting runners is too dicey for most politicians.
In 1933 the Brookings Institution studied Mississippi, then, recommended it have 12 agencies. A study by Highsaw and Mullican in 1950, The Growth of State Administration in Mississippi, recommended 17 agencies. A group of business CEOs in 1971 recommended 32 agencies. Other studies have recommended closing or merging universities, school back shops, and so on to no avail.
In 1817 the state started with eight administrative agencies. By 1932 there were 80. Today, more than 140.
Removing kudzu root crowns and rooting runners requires endless discipline, aggressive controls, and multiple applications. Reducing the size and cost of government will take the same.
History shows governors have attempted to provide more budget discipline than legislators. But, in 1955 the Legislature took over the newly formed Commission on Budget and Accounting chaired by the governor. And in 1984, due to the Allain lawsuit, they ousted the governor completely, creating the legislator-only Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
“Performance-based budgeting” is the lingo government leaders use today to describe how they intend to control spending. But it’s the same ol’ same ol’… picking winners and losers, but eliminating nothing.
Where, oh where, are the real champions of smaller government?