Governors, Legislatures, and Budgets: Diversity across the American States

By Edward J. Clynch; Thomas P. Lauth | Go to book overview

13
Mississippi: Does the Governor Really Count?

EDWARD J. CLYNCH

Most public policies in Mississippi emerge from an ongoing tug of war between change agents pulling the state into the mainstream of American life and status quo forces resisting a restructuring of the traditional order. Budgeting holds center stage in this struggle. Rules of the budget game control which actors participate in allocating state resources. Ironically, traditionalists and modernists do not disagree about the consequences of a gubernatorially dominated budget process. Status quo supporters suspect that enhancing executive power over spending decisions, particularly at the expense of the legislature, threatens the traditional order. Change advocates agree. They believe that a strong governor could successfully improve government services that are so critical to social advancement, even if additional taxes proved necessary. Moving Mississippi into the American mainstream requires services that allow all citizens, including the state's 36 percent black population, to function in a modern society.

During this century the struggle between reform advocates and supporters of the traditional order have periodically focused on the rules of the game governing budget decision making. In 1955 the legislature created a legislatively dominated Commission on Budget and Accounting. The statute designated the governor as nonvoting chairperson and key legislative leaders from each chamber as members of the five- and later eleven-member Budget Commission. The eleven- member commission included the lieutenant governor, as presiding officer in the State Senate. The Budget Commission hired a director, who served at their pleasure, to oversee the operations of the professional staff. The state constitution limited governors to a single four-year term, whereas the lieutenant governor and other legislative leaders could serve an unlimited number of terms. Most governors, who lacked the budgetary expertise of seasoned legislative leaders, failed to overcome the lack of formal gubernatorial authority. The legislative leaders, who controlled the Budget Commission, made the major budget decisions during the budget preparation, legislative approval, and budget execution phases. 1

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