- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi ballot in November will explain the possible budget impact for two competing school funding proposals, but a spokeswoman for a group pushing one of the measures says the ballot’s explanation is incorrect.

Initiative 42 is a proposed constitutional amendment that got on the ballot through a petition process. It would require the state to “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of public schools,” and would allow people to file a lawsuit in chancery court if funding falls short.

The budget analysis that’s being printed on the ballot says Initiative 42 could lead to increases in taxes or fees or cuts in budgets for other state programs if a judge orders full funding of an education budget formula.

The analysis is misleading because it assumes legislators must immediately put an additional $201 million into education, said Patsy Brumfield, spokeswoman for 42 for Better Schools, which supports the initiative.

“It’s one more trick to confuse the voters,” Brumfield said Thursday.

She said spending increases could be phased in over several years, using money generated by economic growth. If it’s done that way, Brumfield said it wouldn’t be necessary to cut other budgets or to increase taxes or fees.

Republican legislative leaders, who oppose Initiative 42, disagree.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, has said if voters adopt 42, he would recommend fully funding an education formula immediately to fend off lawsuits.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, both Republicans, have said 42 would undermine legislators’ power by giving a judge control over a large portion of the state budget.

Measure 42-A is an alternative put on the Nov. 3 ballot by legislators who oppose the citizen-led initiative. It would require legislators to “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.” The budget analysis on the ballot says the cost and revenue impact of 42-A cannot be determined.

Both explanations were written by employees of the Legislative Budget Office, who work directly for the House and Senate.

“I think the LBO director was pressured to change to suit the political power brokers who run the Legislative Budget Committee,” Brumfield said Thursday.

Multiple calls to LBO and director Debbie Rubisoff were not answered Thursday. Rubisoff told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal last month that she had consulted with members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in rewriting the analysis for Initiative 42. An earlier LBO analysis of 42, written during the spring, did not mention the possibility of cutting budgets or increasing fees or taxes.

State election commissioners met Wednesday and set the Nov. 3 ballot, including explanations of the school funding proposals.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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