- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Jan. 20

The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi, on funding education:

The tax coffers of the state of Mississippi are overflowing with more than $100 million in unanticipated revenue and $622 million in reserves.

Mississippi’s plan so far? To cut education. Again.

The Legislative Budget Office has laid out a $3.6 million cut to public schools compared to last year, a $19 million cut for universities and a $3 million cut to community colleges.

In 2008, lawmakers fully funded public schools under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, but they have gutted them by millions since, leading districts to give pink slips to more than 2,000 school employees, including 800 teachers. This year’s shortfall could be as high as $280 million.

To try and get lawmakers to fund education as they should, two efforts have arisen. The signatures of 200,000 voters gathered by the Better Schools, Better Jobs organization put Initiative 42 on the ballot, asking voters if the state should provide an “adequate and efficient” public school system.

Fearing passage of the initiative, some lawmakers are trying to confuse voters by putting a similarly worded alternative on the same ballot, guaranteed to split up the vote. If they really believe in letting the people decide, then why won’t they let the people decide?

Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is leading the second effort, suing to demand that lawmakers fully fund public education under MAEP. While we appreciate his attempt to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire, we suspect his work will come up short.

House Education Chairman Gray Tollison said he supports fully funding MAEP and believes that can be accomplished in three or four years.

What if it was your children? Would you still tell them to wait?

We say to lawmakers that even if you hate public schools, please recognize that 500,000 of our children attend there, and they are your obligation as well as ours.

Yes, Mississippi is a poor state, but the best way for our state - and our children - to take a big step up is through education.

The more students we educate, the more they can achieve. The more students we educate, the better jobs they will have in Mississippi. The more students we educate, the fewer prisons we will have to build in the years to come.

This state been waiting for generations for our children to receive a quality education, and it is past time for this state to start providing it.

It is past time for our politicians to stop making excuses about why a quality education isn’t possible right now.

It is past time for our politicians to move beyond petty politics and partisan bickering to do what is right.

It is past time for this state to start giving our students a quality education.

It is past time. And Lord knows it is time.

Online:

http://www.clarionledger.com

___

Jan. 18

Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on states upping gas tax:

The Republican leadership in Mississippi, including Gov. Phil Bryant, should pay close attention to what some of their colleagues in other states are doing.

They have backed or are backing efforts to raise their state’s gas tax to repair crumbling roads and bridges.

According to an article this past week in USA Today, eight states have raised fuel taxes in the past two years. Several more are considering doing the same this year, including at least three states - South Dakota, Iowa and Utah - that are led by Republican governors.

As with Mississippi, almost all of these states have been way too slow to raise their fuel taxes to keep up with the rise in construction costs and the greater fuel efficiency of today’s vehicles. As a result, their critical infrastructure continues to deteriorate, with little hope from relief from Washington, where Congress is also stuck on a tax rate that hasn’t been adjusted in more than two decades.

If Mississippi were to simply adjust for inflation, its gas tax today should be around 38 cents a gallon, instead of 18.4 cents.

With prices at the pump at their lowest point in six years, state lawmakers may never have a better time psychologically to deal with an issue they have long neglected.

An increasing number of states have recognized the advantage of acting now while motorists are less likely to object. Mississippi should not blow this opportunity.

Online:

http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

___

Jan. 20

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on Lt. Gov. Reeves’ legislative agenda:

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ legislative agenda includes two important steps the Legislature should take to make government in the Magnolia State more transparent.

Reeves wants public hospital boards — such as the one that oversees Singing River Health System — to abide by the state’s Open Meetings Act.

And his recommendations to reform state contracting laws would bring unprecedented disclosure to that process.

As the presiding officer of the state Senate, Reeves is in a powerful position to make such things happen. We hope to hear Gov. Phil Bryant champion the same reforms.

Like Reeves, Bryant need only look at the unraveling of SRHS in Jackson County to justify an end to the exemption for public hospital trustees from the Open Meetings Act.

As Reeves put it, ” . recent events on the Gulf Coast show more transparency is needed at public hospitals. The boards of public hospitals, which are supported by taxpayer dollars, should operate in the sunlight so employees, patients and taxpayers know the level of medical care and fiscal management are operating effectively. That is why I support open meetings for public hospital boards.”

As for how the state handles contracts, Reeves says the government “must avoid conflicts of interest” or risk having “the proverbial fox watching the henhouse.”

To help avoid such conflicts, Reeves said, “I believe government contracts should be easy to find and searchable on the Transparency Mississippi website. Taxpayers should be able to see vendors and subcontractors who are performing work for the public benefit.”

There should be no place for secretive trustees and confidential contracts in the conduct of public business.

We commend the lieutenant governor for joining the growing campaign to rid government of both

Online:

http://www.sunherald.com

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