- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Aug. 15

The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi, on Jackson’s budget shortfalls:

Measures proposed by the city of Jackson to offset expected budget shortfalls are drastic and dangerous, but they are also among the few options left. Mississippi’s capital city is facing millions upon millions in infrastructure projects and a declining tax base while at the same time playing host to state agencies that have made their home here tax free. The current city administration is working to correct years of costly poor management, but it is time the state started doing something to preserve our capital city as well.

Mayor Tony Yarber has called for furloughing city employees one day a month and increasing property taxes by 8 percent, in addition to more standard cost-saving measures such as a hiring freeze, a moratorium on new vehicle purchases and increasing certain city fees.

The mayor’s proposals are part of his $119 million budget recommendation, which is 2.5 percent less than the current budget. The city is facing a 1 percent decrease in property tax revenue that city officials say will result in a $15 million deficit.

The 8 percent tax hike is a bad idea. It will hurt homeowners, renters, businesses and anyone buying a car tag. It will also push Jackson’s tax rate that much higher than surrounding areas, making it even harder for the city to attract residents and businesses. While we understand Yaber’s position, this part of his proposal should be rejected by the City Council.

However, the City Council would be wise to work closely with Yarber and heed many of his proposals. He is not doing what many of his predecessors have done, which is to ignore the issue of decreasing tax revenues. Those decisions not to act have led the city to where it is today, not quite on the precipice of financial disaster but clearly within view of it.

The late-Mayor Chokwe Lumumba pushed through a 1-cent sales tax increase to help pay for infrastructure fixes that are now mandated by a federal consent decree. Lumumba was the first mayor in decades to address head-on the financial realities of Jackson. Yarber has continued to do so, now dealing with the striking reality the consent decree brings when coupled with the loss of tax revenue.

The only glaring mistake we see in Yarber’s plan is his decision to maintain current city employment and service levels while the city is suffering. That is noble, no doubt, but it is not practical. Each department should be asked to make cuts that would lower the city’s budget by at least 7 percent, which should generate approximately $8.5 million in savings and get the city halfway to its deficit from lost tax revenue.

This will not be easy, and it likely will require cuts to personnel and services. However, the city has lost population over the past several years. It is time to make the hard decision to right the staffing levels to reflect these drops. It will also show lawmakers that the Yarber administration and the current City Council is serious about addressing Jackson’s fiscal issues. This is important because it is high time the state stepped in and take measures to help Jackson.

Jackson is no different than many other capital cities, which over the years have seen a decline in population and businesses as suburbs have grown and population shifts have taken place. Jackson is now attempting what several other major metropolitan areas have done, and that’s a revitalization of its downtown. The state could be a real player in this effort, joining major business leaders who are investing millions in private money to help.

The state is exempt from paying property taxes. So while state employees and leaders use Jackson infrastructure and services, they pay nothing for them. While we don’t believe the state should change the law so they pay property taxes, we do believe the state would be wise to look at direct financial assistance - especially to help cover infrastructure upgrades …

If we want Mississippi to prosper, then Jackson cannot be left to slowly die on the vine. Yarber and city leaders are showing their willingness to make tough decisions to address serious fiscal problems - problems they inherited. And while the city needs to take more steps, so does the state need to step up. The free ride needs to end. If Jackson prospers, the state will prosper as well.




Aug. 14

The Commercial Dispatch, Columbus, Mississippi, on same-sex adoptions:

Wednesday, the LGBT advocacy group Campaign for Southern Equality filed suit against the state of Mississippi challenging the state law that prohibits same-sex couples from adopting children.

The law, adopted by the Legislature in 2000, is unconstitutional, the suit asserts.

It requires no legal expertise to realize this is a valid argument.

Mississippi remains the only state where same-sex adoption is banned. Every other state has either dropped its ban or had its laws overturned through the courts.

The tenuous argument supporting such bans disappeared in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutionally-protected right to marry.

The court’s ruling means same-sex couples have all of the rights and privileges marriage affords. The right to adopt children certainly fits within that framework.

What’s more, statistics show that 29 percent of gay couples in Mississippi already have children in their homes; that’s a higher rate than any other state in the nation.

Meanwhile, Mississippi’s foster-care program continues to be in violation of federal guidelines, a charge the state has not disputed.

While opponents argue children raised in same-sex homes are at risk of psychological damage, those who work most closely with children - pediatricians, psychologists and social workers - assert there is no evidence to support that claim. Virtually all of their studies confirm that no distinction can be made between children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by heterosexual couples.

Even some who remain opposed to same-sex adoptions recognize the futility of fighting the suit. Among that group is Gary Chism, R-Columbus, who proudly touts his conservative credentials. Asked about the suit, Chism said that while he still opposes same-sex adoptions, the Legislature should remove the ban when it convenes in January because there remains no legal basis to keep it.

Despite all of the compelling arguments for lifting the ban on same-sex adoptions, Gov. Phil Bryant remains obstinately opposed, instructing state attorney general Jim Hood to fight the suit.

But the governor’s position is futile, pointless and a waste of whatever taxpayer money required to wage a legal battle.

The only logical step is for the state to immediately drop any challenge to the suit and officially change in the law when the Legislature goes into session in January.




Aug. 18

The Vicksburg (Mississippi) Post, on keeping the Mississippi River safe:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking a major step toward improving its services along the Mississippi River with the proposed upgrade of its 67-year-old mat sinking unit.

The mat sinking unit is part of an annual maintenance program on the river that lays more than 100,000 4-by-6-foot concrete mats and places them on the banks of the river to prevent erosion and protect submerged riverbanks. The permanent 24-foot concrete mat sections are tied together and rolled onto the banks to help control erosion.

It uses a large number of men and women working for four months on the Mississippi River in an annual struggle to maintain the riverbanks for levee protection and to provide a safe navigation channel.

But the unit’s age and the labor-intensive activity used to lay the mats has made it expensive and inefficient to operate.

“The unit was designed and built in 1948 using 1948 technology,” Vicksburg District commander Col. John W. Cross recently told the Vicksburg Lions Club. “If you had a car built in 1948, by now you’ve replaced the engine, transmission, brakes, windshield, glass and pretty much everything else, and after all that you still have a 1948 car with no seat belts, no backup camera, no airbags, no ABS and it’s terribly fuel inefficient.”

Cross is working with a team of engineers from Philadelphia to design a new unit that will use off-the-shelf equipment currently used in automatic factories and assembly lines. Using off-the-shelf technology was pioneered by the U.S. Navy in the 1990s through it “Smart Ship” program that led to technological advances in the design of the service’s latest warships. It’s a tried and tested method that the Corps is wise to employ, and the result of the new design and technology will be a more efficient and cost-effective unit.

Cross said the new automated unit would nearly double its output now while increasing safety … Keeping the Mississippi and it tributaries flowing and providing protection for the people who live along its banks is a major project for the Corps. So is performing that function in the most efficient and most cost-effective manner possible. A new automated mat sinking unit will help the Corps do that.



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