- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

March 4

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Miss., on bond bills:

The advantage of long-term bond financing for major projects empowers issuing entities like Mississippi to take advantage of low interest paybacks while building needed facilities and infrastructure like highways and buildings on college campuses.

Mississippi’s Legislature almost always considers a bill approving the issuance of bonds in a broad category of public needs, and it often reaches into spending that’s focused on economic development and jobs creation.

Legislative leaders in both chambers have said that they intend to hold bond spending to under $200 million. Yet the House, in various guises, already has approved bond bills totaling $431 million, and the Senate has approved one for $95.99 million, an amount equal to almost half the $200 million total Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves says he wants.

However, the bills are written so that they can be amended, which allows the persuasion and policies promoting bond issues a way to work their way into the remaining month of the legislative session.

The projects passed in House bond bills so far include $46.2 million to complete the new civil rights museum and state history museum in Jackson, $55 million for improvements at the Mississippi Coliseum and Trade Mart in Jackson and $10.5 million for a parkway connecting Byram and Clinton in the Jackson area.

Not so far included is a possible $20 million bond issue for economic development in Lee County/Tupelo to help retain Cooper Tire’s 1,600 employees and production in Northeast Mississippi. Cooper is considering a $140 million expansion in Tupelo.

The community colleges sought $167 million in bonding authority coming into the session, but would get a fraction of that under measures so far approved but not enacted.

Reeves has met with Cooper officials, as has Gov. Bryant.

We believe support for proven, major existing employers like Cooper in a bond bill is an appropriate use of state resources.

We also support additional consideration of the community colleges’ capital building needs.

Four weeks is a long time to stand hard-and-fast by proposed bond bills today, especially when the state’s economy is growing again as well as the revenue stream generated by that growth.

Online:

http://djournal.com

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March 1

The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., on consolidating state offices:

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, is once again pushing a plan that could save the state millions of dollars each year while also helping to reinvigorate the downtown economy of the Capital City.

Blount’s plan is simple: consolidate all office leasing responsibility under the Department of Finance and Administration and put an emphasis on locating state agencies in the metro area in areas designated as the Capitol Complex.

Currently, each state agency handles its own leasing. Over the years, this has led to a number of problems and inconveniences, the most important being wasted money and wasted space.

Blount’s bill comes in response to a 2013 report by the Else School of Management at Millsaps College. According to the report, the state spends $16 million per year on leases for agencies that employ a total of 4,700 people. That equates to 321 square feet of space per state employee. Reducing that amount to the federally recommended 218 square feet per employee would save state taxpayers approximately $5 million per year.

The state could see additional savings by consolidating state agencies into the Capitol Complex, a geographically designated area in downtown Jackson. The average lease rates in downtown are significantly lower than those in other metro areas. For instance, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is moving several of his agency offices to Capital Towers. Doing so, he said, will save the state $10,000 per month in lease costs.

Blount introduced a similar bill last year. The main difference was that it would have relocated the Department of Revenue to the Landmark Center in downtown Jackson. The bill died in the House after passing with only one no vote in the Senate. The reason was purely political. House Speaker Philip Gunn wanted DOR to move to Clinton, which it eventually did.

With that political sticking point out of the way, Gunn and fellow House leaders have little reason to object to this bill. It saves the state money, consolidates wasted space and makes government agencies easier to access for the general public.

However, leaders in various agencies are fighting the bill because they do not want to give up their freedom to choose their office space. Some of them do not want to give up the larger office space, bigger conference rooms and nice amenities to which they have become accustom. That’s understandable, but it is not reason enough to continue handling the leases in the same manner.

Senate Bill 2506 unanimously passed the Senate and now sits in the House Public Property Committee, where its fate rests in the hands of Chairman Tom Weathersby, R-Florence, and Speaker Gunn.

The deadline for the House to pass the bill is Tuesday. It should be an easy vote, one that will save the state more than $5 million annually once the consolidation is completed over the next two years.

The two metro-area lawmakers certainly have political reasons to kill the bill, but we see no reason that is in the best interest of taxpayers.

This is smart, fiscally conservative, bi-partisan legislation. It’s time for it to become law.

Online:

http://www.clarionledger.com

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March 3

The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth on state health exchanges:

We have previously criticized Gov. Phil Bryant for blocking Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney’s effort to set up a state-run exchange to allow the uninsured in Mississippi to sign up for health coverage under Obamacare.

We aren’t backing away from that criticism. We do note, though, that while some of the state-operated exchanges, such as Kentucky’s, have received positive reviews, others are as fouled up, if not more so, than the federal exchange was when it launched.

The Associated Press has detailed the frustrations consumers are having trying to get through to call centers in states operating their own exchanges. In California, the average wait time last month was 47 minutes. In Washington, one woman reported being put on hold for more than an hour on two separate calls. In Nevada, another woman waited more than 3½ hours on one call - and even that was a small slice of the 100-plus hours she says she spent on the phone getting her application processed.

With those kinds of ridiculous wait times, you have to wonder how many people said, “Forget it.”

Most of these problem states apparently woefully understaffed their call centers. Several are hiring more employees to try to bring the hold times down.

Would Mississippi have done better on answering the phone? We would hope so, but, thanks to Bryant, we will never know.

Online:

http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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