Senator Eugene “Buck” S. Clarke of Hollandale, Mississippi, represents District 22 (Bolivar, Humphreys, Madison, Sharkey, Washington and Yazoo counties) in the Mississippi Senate, and currently serves as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Clarke is a graduate of Mississippi State University, is married to the former Paula Watkins, and has three children, Anne Read, Carlisle and Ellen.
Q: What challenges does our state face currently and in the coming years?
A:Our number one challenge as a state is similar to that of most families, and that is to bring in enough money and spend it in such a way that all of our needs are met and some of our wants get to happen. The budget is our biggest challenge. The economic recovery is slow and our tax revenues, while up compared to previous years, are not
growing at a rate we would like. We face many challenges in funding education at all levels, infrastructure needs, public safety and basic social services. I have also been fighting the status quo, which challenges the efficiency and effectiveness of state government. The “we’ve always done it that way” approach is not a healthy one as we decide how to invest our resources and grow our state. We have a limited amount of resources, and we must ensure each dollar appropriated is spent wisely.
Q: How will those challenges affect Mississippi State University?
A:MSU will be affected because all of those aforementioned needs must share the limited budget pie. More for MSU means less for other needs and vice-versa. Less for MSU means less to carry out their mission of education, research and service, all of which contribute back to the Mississippi economy. On top of educating our population, MSU is a leader in research and service that many Mississippi industries and citizens rely on. Managing the budget is a matter of addressing priorities, some of which are very difficult to pin down in terms of dollars. And, sometimes, a need will present itself that we had not expected.
Q: What are some successes and/or what accomplishments of the Mississippi Legislature are you proud of over the last 2-3 years?
A:I am most proud of the fact that we no longer spend one-time money to fund recurring expenses. We now only fund long-term expenses out of expected revenue streams that we anticipate to come in regularly. Second, each year, we retire more state debt than we authorize—so we are slowly but surely coming out of a cycle of having to take such a large portion of our revenue to pay off bonded indebtedness. We have also simplified the budget process, and will continue to make it more simple and transparent. I am also proud that we restored the Rainy Day Fund to have when the economy ticks downward. These are just sound financial management practices that many previous legislatures failed to live by. As it relates to higher education, I am proud that we have contributed more to operations in order to keep tuition lower than our neighboring states. Also, we have been successful in appropriating one-time dollars for repairs and renovation that patch roofs and repair HVACs, avoiding taking out more long-term debt. Specifically for MSU, we have made strategic investments in the agricultural units and other research operations, which are vital to the Mississippi economy and industries. From water resource management practices to pesticide application techniques and unmanned aerial systems, MSU not only leads the way in discovering better methods of use, but is also in the field making those discoveries a reality for our Mississippi families and businesses. We have not been able to meet all needs, but the steps we have taken have allowed us to invest in our priorities that will make Mississippi better for us all.
Q: Why do you believe Bully Bloc is important as it relates to Mississippi State University and the current political climate?
A:Bully Bloc is critical to MSU and makes a big difference in our current political climate. We need more legislators who will not sacrifice funding of higher education in order to fund more politically popular programs. There is no doubt that household income is directly tied to educational attainment, so if we want our state to prosper and attract high-end jobs, we have to make sure that as many qualified students who desire a college degree will have the opportunity to pursue one. MSU provides research that benefits thousands of people and improves our lives, and appropriate funding helps insure the continuance of that. I truly believe that a stronger MSU means a stronger Mississippi. When Bully Bloc identifies and supports candidates who understand the importance of higher education, it becomes easier to continue to provide the level of funding necessary for MSU to fulfill its mission and prosper. In fact, we need more of our alumni involved in the political process. A smart man once said that the punishment of wise men who refuse to participate in the affairs of government is to live under the rule of unwise men.
Q: What have you learned during your tenure as Appropriations Chairman of the Senate?
A:I can’t begin to cover all I have learned—and as a matter of fact, I learn something new every day. The job of chairing the Appropriations Committee is so broad in scope and minute in detail that I really don’t think one person can learn it all. I just try to keep plugging away every day. Our funding sources are varied—federal money, tax revenue, fees and fines generated from individuals, grants and lawsuit settlements. Some of these sources have strings, like matching some federal dollars with state dollars, and some carry restrictions on how they can be spent. It is truly a complex process. So each day, I learn more about how spending makes each part of state government function, and I try to make that happen as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Bully Bloc is a non-partisan political action committee not affiliated with Mississippi State University.