Monday, Nov. 29, 2010 | 2 a.m.
As the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has been one of his party’s key spokesmen this past year. Barbour, who is considering a run for president in 2012, has made himself out to be a conservative budget cutter.
“Anyone who says there isn’t a part of state government that can’t save money doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Barbour said at the association’s meeting this month, according to The Wall Street Journal. “There is no department — the highway patrol, the crime lab, the highway department — that can’t save money.”
Barbour and his fellow Republican governors and governors-elect talked about how they could save money during their meeting. Certainly, any government can save money just by cutting, but it’s not that simple. Just ask Barbour.
In Mississippi, Barbour made cuts but he also signed off on two tax increases — he called them “little” — and he had access to more than $2.6 billion in stimulus money. So much for cutting and saving. But Barbour wasn’t alone. Budget cuts, tax increases and the stimulus helped many states, including Nevada, get through the last budget cycle.
But states won’t likely have that money this coming year, and Barbour and his Republican colleagues can thank themselves. Fueled by the Tea Party, the Republicans used anti-tax, anti-stimulus rhetoric to win major victories in this month’s elections.
But now that the election is over, reality is beginning to sink in, and without new revenue, the budget cuts will be deep and painful.
So what’s a governor to do?
• Nevada Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval has been vague about what budget cuts he might make. He did, however, meet this month with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss ways the federal government could help the state, particularly with Medicaid. Sandoval has also looked for other ways to raise revenue that will get around his no-new-taxes pledge. For example, he has suggested shifting state responsibilities to local governments — and letting them raise taxes.
• In Mississippi, Barbour said he doesn’t think there should be another round of federal stimulus money, but he’s not against taking federal money. He told the Journal that he doesn’t think it’s “wrong or bad policy for the federal government to give money to state and local governments for certain purposes.”
• Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who takes over for Barbour as the Republican Governors Association chairman, just published a book blaming the federal government for the nation’s problems. But as the Dallas Morning News recently noted, he doesn’t offer any solutions. Meanwhile, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that no other state relied more heavily on stimulus dollars during the 2010 fiscal year to close its budget shortfall than Texas.
So much for the Republican governors “saving” their way to prosperity. We can’t wait to see what they do this coming year, because they are facing a monumental task. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that more than 30 states are facing budget deficits of more than $127 billion over the next two years. Nevada’s budget shortfall over the next two years is expected to be $3 billion.
Will the Republican governors maintain their anti-Washington rhetoric while they keep a hand out? Or will they make massive cuts, crippling services and taking all of that money out of the economy? Perhaps they’ll find some other sources — maybe there’s $127 billion under the couch cushions.