TUESDAY, JAN. 30, 2007

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Party leaders: Barbour stretches facts

JACKSON (Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007) – While Republican Gov. Haley Barbour tours the state promoting his 2007 agenda, Mississippi Democratic Party leaders want to make sure the people know the truth about his claims.

Key Democrats question Barbour’s effectiveness as the state’s chief executive. They also say that the gains in public education Barbour touts actually began before he took office, and they say they have had to fight for education since he has been governor.

“There is a perception out there that the governor has been for education all along,” said state Sen. Gloria Williamson, D-Philadelphia. “This is just not true. He has tried to cut different programs. He has tried to come in with a voucher system.

“He’s tried to do all these things to schools, and some of us Democrats have been able to stop him from doing that,” Williamson said. “We Democrats – it is our chore to get out there and tell the truth.”

Yet, Barbour, who is expected to run for another term as governor, continues to misrepresent his record – especially in a series of public meetings across the state that have been timed to follow his State of the State speech to the Mississippi Legislature that occurred on Jan. 15.

Among other things, Barbour takes credit for an increase of $323 million in K-12 spending, an 8 percent teacher pay raise and the backing of full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program – the state’s basic funding for public schools.

But the increased school spending and teacher raises were approved under Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove – well before the former tobacco lobbyist took office. And Barbour has opposed full funding for MAEP, under funding it in his proposed budget for the state’s next fiscal year.

Barbour suddenly changed his position on MAEP funding after the Mississippi Department of Education reduced the amount of new money needed next year from $158 million to $124.6 million. Now, the governor says, he expects to sign a bill this year to fully fund MAEP.

The governor also takes credit for creating 35,000 jobs during his first three years in office.

But he conveniently doesn’t mention the 2,000 to 2,500 direct and indirect jobs that will be lost when the Bryan Foods plant in West Point closes in March. He also doesn’t mention the 450 jobs that will be phased out as Oreck Manufacturing Co. moves its operations from Long Beach to Tennessee.

The Bryan Foods’ closing was announced Monday; Oreck announced its plans last month.

“Gov. Barbour wants people to believe everything is just great in Mississippi and that he has led the state into a bold, new, wonderful era,” said Wayne Dowdy, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party. “But when you look at the facts, you see something different.

“The solution is simple: We need a visionary leader who can lure business, industry and jobs to Mississippi; help the Coast recover quickly from Hurricane Katrina; place education as the top priority; and make the state a great place to live.”


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