Depending on whom you ask, Initiative 42 is either the last chance to get K-12 fully funded in this state or a ticking time bomb that could cost public universities and other state agencies millions of dollars.
The rhetoric surrounding the issue is heating up as the Nov. 3 general election draws closer.
The initiative was placed on the ballot after almost 200,000 state residents signed a petition to require the state legislature to fully fund public schools in the state. The argument can be traced back to 1997, when the Mississippi Adequate Education Program law was enacted. This is the formula that calculates the cost of giving each student an adequate education in state schools. State schools have only been fully funded twice since then.
The initiative on the ballot would force legislators to live up to the 1997 law, say supporters. Critics say that the wording of the initiative could leave enforcement up to a Hinds County Chancery Judge who would make decisions about state education funding.
Either way, higher education funding could face large cuts if the initiative passes.
"There has not been adequate funding for anyone in the state of Mississippi," said Dr. Jim Borsig, addressing the Faculty Senate at MUW in September.
State universities are already looking at a decrease in state funding for the next fiscal year, and ─ worst-case scenario ─ passage of Initiative 42 could trigger a 15-percent cut in January 2016. The prospect of a cut this large is making people at state universities very nervous.
Borsig outlined that a 15-percent cut at MUW could cost several positions at the university. Vacant positions would go unfilled, and some staff positions might need to be eliminated.
He said that he thinks it is more likely that the state legislature would make the cuts at the beginning of the next fiscal year, but there seems to be little doubt that the university would have to make cuts. The university may already have to raise tuition to offset some anticipated legislative funding reductions.
Patsy Brumfield, an Initiative 42 supporter who spoke to the Faculty Senate earlier this month, said the legislature would have the option of a seven-year-phase-in plan, rather than making across the board cuts all at once.
Even though voters will decide the fate of Initiative 42 in November, it could be next year before the effects of the decision are felt.