Mabus Offers Plan for Funding Most of Miss. Reform Bill

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Gov. Ray Mabus of Mississippi has offered a $150-million package of increased user fees and lottery revenues in the hope that lawmakers will find the $38 million needed for first-year funding of the state's new education-reform law.

The legislature passed the three-year, $182-million school plan in April. But lawmakers and the Governor--who adamantly opposes increasing taxes--were unable to agree on how to pay for it. (See Education Week, April 11, 1990.)

As a result, the legislature was scheduled to begin a special session this week on funding measures for the school-reform plan and certain other state programs. The education bill will die July 1 unless a financing agreement is reached.

The education bill would offer financial incentives for schools with high student-achievement gains, while mandating improvement plans for schools that failed to meet minimum performance standards. The bill also includes expanded dropout-prevention, adult-literacy, and early-childhood-screening programs.

Aides to Mr. Mabus say his funding plan targets items that can be avoided by most taxpayers. For example, the plan would increase the cost of alcoholic beverages, traffic tickets, and personalized license plates.

Mr. Mabus also has made concessions aimed at winning legislative backing for his plan to establish a state lottery, which would generate an estimated $55 million a year. The Senate has repeatedly voted against a lottery, which would require a constitutional amendment that also would have to be approved by the voters.

The education plan also could be funded with taxes on legalized video-poker games and riverboat gambling, officials said.

Agreement Predicted

A prominent lawmaker said last week that the changes proposed by the Governor--together with the looming deadline for education funding--made an agreement likely.

"Most of it has been considered before, but it's a different situation," said Senator Bob Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Mr. Montgomery said Mr. Mabus's latest funding plan makes "substantial movement" on the lottery and video-poker games, which would be the two biggest revenue producers.

Aides to the Governor also expressed optimism last week about the prospects for an agreement by July.

"We wanted to give the legislators more than enough funding options and make sure they can pick and choose," said Kevin Vandenbroek, Mr. Mabus's press secretary.

"The legislature realizes that it has been working on the program for over a year and we've been working on it for two years now," Mr. Vandenbroek said. "We all read the same polls and education is the issue in Mississippi."

"They've had an opportunity to go home and talk to their constituents about funding mechanisms," he added, "and I think they understand that we've gotten half way on education reform but now we need to take the final step."

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