The 1993 Ivan Reitman movie "Dave" features Kevin Kline as the director of a temp agency with a striking resemblance to the President of the United States who makes an extra buck impersonating the President at parties and promotions. When the Commander-In-Chief has a stroke during a compromising indiscretion, the chief-of-staff supplants him with Kline's character. The comedy features an ordinary guy who brings common sense to Washington DC.

"Dave" enlists his personal accountant to review the federal budget, then calls a cabinet meeting to make tough decisions. He calls out the Commerce Department on an ad campaign "to boost consumer confidence in the American auto industry." The Commerce Secretary explains, "It's designed to bolster individual confidence in a previous domestic automotive purchase." "Dave" responds, "So, we're spending $47 million so that somebody can feel better about a car they already bought? I'm sure that's important, but I don't want to tell an eight-year-old kid he's gotta sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. Do you want to tell him that?"

The Mississippi budget is no laughing matter, but it is time to bring common sense to state government. Governor Haley Barbour's bold budget recommendation and Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant's report from his Commission for a New Mississippi both call for government efficiencies. Barbour recommends consolidating school districts, agencies, and government functions to reduce unnecessary, redundant spending. Bryant wants "performance-based budgeting" to match budgets with specific outcomes.

We also need outside of government thinking that doesn't base a budget measured on "cuts" or "increases" from previous years. If I can't afford to pay my bills, I don't make across the board cuts. I don't say "I'm going to trim my cable bill by 12 percent by cutting out premium channels, and I'm going to trim my food budget by only eating six days a week." I'm going to zero out my cable bill completely before I go hungry.

Mississippi needs to focus on essential government services and zero out items that practically we can't afford and principally are not the role of government. For example, the State of Mississippi collects from our tax dollars to spend $1.9 million on the Mississippi Arts Commission. For centuries, kings and popes and wealthy families have commissioned artists and funded creations that have enriched humanity and glorified God. I suggest in a prosperous free-market, private-property based society we let individuals and organizations fund the arts, not tax dollars. One could convince me there is a place for Mississippi to promote the arts, celebrate artists and recognize artistic achievements, but the Mississippi Arts Commission receives private support which could pay for those activities. Do you want to tell a teacher we can't give her a raise because our tax dollars instead will go to an arts grant so a suburbanite can learn to make folk jewelry? Do you want to take a police officer off the street so we can fund the Mississippi Academy of Ancient Music or the Mississippi Puppetry Guild? Somebody call "Dave".

I'm not picking on the Arts Commission which also receives federal and private funds. But last year the Mississippi legislature authorized local governments to turn tax dollars over in the form of contributions to Boys & Girls Club organizations, nonprofit athletic organizations, and even the Delta State Alumni Association. All serve the community, but they are not necessary functions of government.

We have a budget problem because our spending priorities are locked in the past. If our elected tax-spenders considered how best to manage our resources based on today's needs rather than yesterday's decisions, our budget might look more like Barbour's recommendation. On a blank slate, were we to create a community college system for Mississippi, would we really make the decision to spend more by duplicating administrative and purchasing costs?

On a blank slate, if we were to design a Mississippi university system to serve 71,202 students (2008 numbers), we could do so with four universities each smaller than Mississippi State, or five universities roughly the size of Southern. Would we actually make the decision to increase costs by instead funding eight administrations? Would we really tell students and parents their tuition and taxes will be higher because we've decided to create three additional universities only a few hundred students larger than some Mississippi high schools?

If Mississippi returns state spending to essential government functions, when the economy recovers, we will be in a position to fund true priorities: higher paid teachers, better roads, safer neighborhoods. If we just put a band-aid on this recession, or worse raise taxes, then our future will be trapped in the past. The quickest way to Mississippi's progress is to make bold cuts today. For a liberal like Kevin Kline, "Dave" had it pretty right.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at