Gov. Haley R. Barbour met with a few dozen of Mississippi's business and business association leaders in his Capitol Office on Jan. 7, shortly after the Legislature adjourned in anticipation of approaching cold weather and frozen roads.

The business roundtable actually featured a "round table" near the back of the room between the participants and the media, but Barbour addressed the crowd from in front of his desk. Just to the side of his desk stands a Ten Commandments monument. When the Alabama Supreme Court booted a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building rotunda during the 2003 gubernatorial campaign, both Barbour and his predecessor Ronnie Musgrove pledged to accept it if given the opportunity. I don't think it was the same monument, but I know it has some good advice for budget writers: Thou shalt not covet.

To covet is to desire inordinately that which belongs to another. And that instruction is good for those who seek tax increases, because government can produce no revenue it does not take away from someone else. Of course, the faithful believe everything they have belongs not to them but to God. That doesn't help those who crave taxes, as I don't expect it is any better to covet instead God's possessions he has entrusted to someone else. But I digress, Barbour did not get a sermon.

But he did share the good news of economic development. Barbour described job creation efforts in Mississippi: ATK's (Alliant Techsystems Inc.) 800 jobs in Iuka to build airplane skeletons from lightweight composites; the recent expansion of EADS (American Eurocopter) in the Golden Triangle as a result of new contracts; General Electric Aviation in Batesville which Barbour described as that company's "most sophisticated manufacturing operation "; and finally the selection of Tunica County by Wilh. Schulz GMBH to construct $300 million 500 job facility.

Barbour said these examples prove, "We can create jobs during a recession...we can create advanced manufacturing jobs," the key to which is training and upgrading the quality of Mississippi's workforce to compete for high-tech manufacturing in a global economy. He suggested that some high school students do not see the value of what they are learning to be useful in their careers, so they drop out. Barbour argues we should remove the stigma of not pursuing a college education, and provide greater opportunity for some students to choose alternative routes toward skill development and job training. He said many skill workers achieve high wages and salaries without college, and advance manufacturing could employ non-college but skill-trained workers.

In addition to pursuing job creation, Barbour's second business priority for the legislative session is passing a conservative budget. The Governor said there is bipartisan, bicameral agreement not to raise taxes this session, and he praised the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for making significant cuts and recognizing this budget year would not be business as usual.

Barbour asked the business leaders to support his request to the Legislature for greater budget cutting flexibility and noted that House leadership had almost granted that authority but had unfortunately not exempted the Department of Corrections from mandatory across the board cuts. An exemption for Corrections would be necessary in making across the board cuts, or else three to four thousand convicts would have to be released onto the streets within a matter of weeks. He hoped the Legislature would reconsider that component and grant him the ability to cut the budget.

The governor praised the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for making significant cuts toward a balanced budget, but Barbour opposed one recommendation: a tax amnesty the Committee projected would provide $35 million for fiscal year 2011. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant's office described the amnesty as "innovative" and noted that similar efforts in Louisiana and New Jersey exceeded estimations in collections.

"I disagree with the idea of tax amnesty. I think it's very bad policy," said Barbour who suggested instead increased enforcement in tax collection. "Let's collect the taxes we're owed and not get back to this amnesty business." Barbour noted an amnesty program was conducted in 2004. He fears enacting the policy again would further provide incentives to avoid paying taxes.

Barbour was accepting of the Committee's proposed fee increases. He said he did not believe a $12 increase in a title for a car that costs thousands of dollars, or a $25 fee creation levied against LLCs on an annual basis, were not material increases which would hurt businesses. He said while less is better on fee increases, he didn't see those fees as a cause for a veto.

When the prospect of "sin taxes" levied against sweetened beverages (Coke, Pepsi, baby formula, athletic drinks) came up in discussion, Barbour shook his head fervently, "There's not going to be a beverage tax as long as I'm governor." You can chisel that in stone.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. You can reach him at