- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Dec. 9

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on the Singing River Health System:

As the “chaos” at Singing River Health System deepens, it is becoming more difficult to trust those responsible for administering or overseeing the sprawling health care system.

First there’s the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, which appoints the trustees who hire SRHS’ CEO.

At a meeting Monday, four of the county’s five supervisors said they were unaware the SRHS pension plan had been terminated. (The fifth, John McKay, did not comment.)

Yet now we have a copy of a confidential email SRHS CEO Kevin Holland sent each supervisor Nov. 30 stating, “A reminder that the (SRHS) Board of Trustees has voted and we will be launching a substantial communication plan early this week. As you are aware, the Board (of Trustees) chose the ‘Plan Choice’ option which effectively terminates the current defined benefit plan. We are following the Plan Charter in terminating the plan.” (Emphasis added.)

So whom do you trust when it comes to what the supervisors knew and when they knew it — the supervisors or Holland?

As for the current SRHS administration, when did those in authority become aware of the system’s financial condition and was that information fully disclosed to employees and the public in a timely fashion?

Then there are the SRHS trustees, whom the Mississippi Legislature continues to permit to meet in secret.

And though the minutes of trustee meetings are supposed to be public records, their worth is sometimes dubious, as shown in this excerpt: “The Board members asked several questions throughout the presentation, all of which were answered . .” What were the questions? What were the answers? The minutes provide no clue.

In the Nov. 30 email to supervisors, Holland referred to “the current chaos” and the “volatile financial situation” at SRHS.

Who can now be trusted to end the chaos and stabilize the finances at Jackson County’s second-largest employer?

The livelihoods of nearly 4,000 employees and retirees depend on a satisfactory answer, as do the lives of thousands more who depend on SRHS for their health care.




Dec. 10

The Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on tuition waivers:

Granted, it’s a little early to be definitely judging the cost-effectiveness of a government program that has been in place for just four months.

Nevertheless, the early results strongly indicate that Mississippi’s drug-testing of welfare recipients is the waste of time and money that this newspaper and other critics predicted it would be.

According to a report last week in The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, almost 3,700 adult applicants for welfare benefits have since August filled out the newly required questionnaire that is supposed to indicate whether they might have a drug problem. From that pool, 38 were identified to be drug-tested.

From those 38, two tested positively.

Do the math. If this early sample is reflective of the typical welfare recipient, there is a 1 in 1,800 chance that he or she uses illegal drugs. A random sampling of every college in this country and probably most every boardroom in corporate America would hit more positives than that.

What has Mississippi spent so far to identify these two drug users? About $9,000. Not a huge amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but still a terribly poor investment of taxpayers’ money if judged strictly on results.

This law was nothing but Republican pandering to conservative voters who look down on anyone who gets government help, except of course if they or their corporate friends are the recipients of it.

Though the drug-testing law was portrayed by its backers as an expression of tough love toward welfare recipients, there’s no love in it at all. It’s picking on one group of individuals, mostly poor single mothers, for a disparate treatment that would never be applied to any other constituency that receives government benefits.

There are plenty of mistakes that mothers on welfare have made. The primary one in many cases is having children out of wedlock. Drug use, however, doesn’t appear to be anything they are more prone to than the rest of the population. If anything, given the cost of feeding a drug habit, they might be less inclined, as the early results from Mississippi’s drug-testing law are showing.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who supported the law, has beat the drums for years about performance-based budgeting. He’s said that state government programs should be regularly and objectively evaluated.

Those that aren’t working or are more expensive than they are worth should be eliminated, he has said.

Here is a perfect target for Bryant to prove he’s willing to apply such businesslike objectivity to even his own pet programs. He should advocate for repeal of the law before its waste gets firmly entrenched.




Dec. 10

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on budget proposal:

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, as many supporters of public education anticipated, again failed in its recommendations for 2016 to make significant progress in fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, the bedrock minimum needed for school districts to provide an adequate education.

The committee recommended increasing MAEP funding by a mere $32 million, and that won’t even cover the teacher pay raise passed in 2014, which requires an additional $40 million in the 2016 budget cycle, the cycle legislators will vote on in the 2015 session.

The committee’s executive summary cover page lists as FY2016 Budget Goals, “Provide adequate funding of critical state operations.”

The proposed budget fails to adequately fund public education, inarguably a critical function. The shortfall for MAEP under the committee’s terms would be $280 million, which would bring to nearly $1.8 billion the amount underfunded in the formula since the 2008 legislative session.

Public schools K-12 aren’t the only education funds reduced in the proposal:

- General support for the eight public universities would be slashed 4.6 percent.

- Community college support would be cut 1.4 percent.

To suggest that maybe revenues will rise to a level allowing better funding is an insufficient response to the good-faith efforts of employees who work for state agencies like the schools and universities with inadequate resources coupled with a demand to do more, do better.

The committee’s highlights of the 2015 budget claim it funds “statutory/legislative commitments,” but that’s not the case.

MAEP is statutory, and it has been fully funded only twice in its existence. The Legislature is not above selectively deciding which funding mandates it will obey.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, arguably education’s most passionate Senate supporter in his 30 years of service, says the Republican leadership, executive and legislative, is “fundamentally dismantling” public education by underfunding what’s necessary for a comprehensive program.

Bryan said the underfunding is an equivalent of “letting children go uneducated.”

The continuing failure of the leadership to come to grips with the necessity of fully funding MAEP has not gone unnoticed by others who seek strong public schools. It’s the chief reason that a constitutional initiative designed to eventually ensure full funding of MAEP was signed by more than 200,000 Mississippians this year and will appear on the November 2015 ballot.

Education decisions cannot be made in a partisan vacuum as produced in the budget proposal. Public education, as the governor has so recently said, is a people’s issue, but not in a narrow partisan context.



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