Steve Mullen: Unstimuluslike conduct

September 8, 2010 10:56:00 AM

Steve Mullen - smullen@cdispatch.com

 

On cue, the anti-Obama is behaving very unstimuluslike. 

 

It would be cynical to think that Gov. Haley Barbour might be playing politics with money that could actually help Mississippians. Still, the farther Obama falls, the higher Barbour''s own long-shot presidential chances rise. "The country may be looking for the anti-Obama in 2012," Barbour said about his own chances in an interview reported last week by Politico. 

 

So, no one should be shocked that shortly after the president signed an education stimulus package into law and appropriated about $150 million to the state for Medicaid this year, Barbour was figuring out how to avoid spending at least some of the money -- at least until next year. 

 

"Doing so could make it easier for officials to craft a state budget during the 2011 election-year session when most lawmakers are either seeking another term or running for higher office, and when Barbour -- a potential 2012 presidential candidate -- is wrapping up his final year as governor," The Associated Press reported. State lawyers are researching if they can hoard the federal money until it''s more politically advantageous.  

 

Lawmakers in favor of the scheme, who include both Republicans and Democrats, argue that fiscal discipline, not political maneuvering, is behind the move. Fiscal 2012, which begins next July 1, will be tougher than this year, they say. 

 

Our house is on fire, and the fire department is on the scene with help. But instead of dousing the flames, Barbour and other state leaders are telling the firemen to fill up the swimming pool out back -- we''ll save the water for when the house is really on fire. Because the fire will be worse a year from now, right? 

 

While it''s unclear whether we''ll slip out of the recession by 2012, it''s certainly clear that it''s tough, if not impossible, for stimulus money to stimulate when it isn''t in the pipeline -- you know, stimulating. And we expect Barbour, a leader in national Republican strategy, to bow up at the idea of increased federal spending, though Mississippi has long received a disproportionate share of federal dollars compared to most other states. 

 

Opponents of the plan to hold the federal money until 2012 point out that 2011 is pretty tough already. "Why on earth are we putting all this money in the bank at the bottom of a recession?" Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory said to the AP. 

 

This isn''t a flat-out rejection of the stimulus funding, but it''s not letting it do its work. In fact, the extra funds, intended to save teacher jobs and restore heath care for the poor, amount to a hijacking, Barbour said. "There is no justification for the federal government hijacking state budgets, but that''s exactly what Congress has done," he said in a statement after the bill signing. 

 

Despite the pooh-poohing of millions in health and education funds offered to who are on average the unhealthiest and least-educated people in the nation, Barbour''s office said he''ll apply for the funding. Still, the shell game being played with its release smacks of political opportunism and blunts the funds'' intended effect.

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.