When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act first passed last year, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MI) was one of the Republican governors who grandstanded against accepting all of the money, and since then, he has continually criticized the Recovery Act and poo-pooed its substantial effects. “A lot of this is just crazy,” he said. “I’m better off not to get it.”
Barbour was no more receptive to the $26 billion in additional state aid that was passed by Congress last month. “There is no justification for the federal government hijacking state budgets, but that is exactly what Congress has done,” Barbour said. But as it turns out, Barbour not only wants the money, he wants to save it, in order to make his budget look better next year:
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a bipartisan group of Mississippi lawmakers are considering saving, rather than spending, one of the two pots of federal stimulus money Congress recently approved. 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.
Barbour is just the latest in a line of Republican governors — including Gov. Rick Perry (TX), Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN), and Gov. Mitch Daniels (IN) — who criticize the stimulus while reaping its benefits and bragging about their fiscal stewardship of their respective states.
Mississippi state Sen. Hob Bryan (D) said he “strongly objects” to Barbour’s proposed move. “Why on earth are we putting all this money in the bank at the bottom of a recession?” Indeed, Mississippi has had to make some severe cuts in its budget already, eliminate funding for mental health services and K-12 education, and lay off workers who staff juvenile justice facilities.
Perry has also said that he will attempt to use the latest round of state aid for something other than Congress intended, while lawmakers in both California and Oregon have suggested that they’ll use federal education funding to simply plug holes in their budgets. But Barbour is planning to take this a step further, socking away funding meant to alleviate the pain of the Great Recession this year to bolster his own fiscal credentials next year.