- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:


Dec. 22

The McComb Enterprise-Journal on improving the state’s bridges and roads:

The Mississippi Economic Council has put down on paper what many transportation leaders and others have been saying for years.

The state’s roads and bridges are in terrible shape, the situation is nearing a crisis point, and there are easy and reasonable ways to address it - if we can only get those running state government to summon the political courage to do the necessary and obvious.

The MEC’s 42-page report should provide the cover the Legislature and Gov. Phil Bryant need to do what they should have done long before now: Raise the revenue - through tax or fee increases or a mixture of both - to get this problem addressed before it gets any worse or more expensive.

MEC, the state’s chamber of commerce, crunched a lot of numbers, and it estimates that it would take an extra $375 million per year to tackle the worst infrastructure problems. It believes that’s a number the politicians and the public can be persuaded to swallow.

The MEC doesn’t specify where lawmakers should go to get the money, but it provides a menu of options where taxes or fees could be raised: the excise tax on fuel, the general sales tax, the excise tax on rental cars, the fee on license plates. It also suggests as possibilities a new sales tax just on fuel or a new vehicle-miles-traveled fee, the latter of which is being experimented with in some states.

The most obvious source of new money - and one that this newspaper has advocated for some time - is the excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel.

According to the MEC task force’s calculations, every 1 cent increase in the gas tax would bring in $21.7 million. The gas tax is presently 18.4 cents per gallon and has not been increased since 1987. If the excise tax had been adjusted for inflation, the tax should be 20 cents higher by now. Twenty cents times $21.7 million equals $434 million - more than MEC’s recommended spending increase, and enough cushion to cover any continued downward trend in gasoline consumption.

The beauty of raising the gas tax is that it’s a simple and logical user fee, and the timing could not be better. With gas prices presently less than $2 a gallon - half of their peak seven years ago - lawmakers could pass a 20-cent increase tomorrow and motorists would hardly flinch.

It’s only because Republicans, who dominate all of state government, have created such an anti-tax phobia that even completely logical revenue measures have been considered unthinkable.

The initial reaction from Bryant and other key GOP leaders to the MEC report was that if any taxes are to be raised to fund transportation maintenance and repair, they would want to see other taxes lowered. That may be the way political trade-offs work, but it’s a fiscally poor argument.

The longstanding neglect of Mississippi’s roads and bridges is already costing drivers money in higher wear and tear on their vehicles, longer commute times and higher accident rates. According to the MEC report, if the work it recommends is done, Mississippi motorists on average will save $534 a year, four times as much as they will be paying in higher taxes or fees.

In other words, what the state has been doing is penny-wise and pound-foolish - not to mention dangerous - for the people of this state. No taxes have to be cut to make them whole. They will already be better off financially if deteriorating roads and bridges are fixed or replaced.

The public can understand this if it is just discussed intelligently. The MEC has laid the groundwork for this education process to take hold - if the GOP leadership has the backbone to see it through.




Dec. 22

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal of Tupelo on food insecurity:

The days before Christmas in Mississippi involve almost frenzied activity, much of it surrounding food preparations for the feasts ahead with friends and family.

There’s little time to consider the down side of food and the holidays, but Misisssippi is among the states where the problem called “food insecurity” is worst.

Food insecurity - the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports - is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Hunger is an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity.

USDA’s labels describe ranges of food security:

- Food security, high food security: no reported indications of food-access problems or limitations.

- Marginal food security; one or two reported indications, typically of anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house. Little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake.

- Food insecurity, low food security: reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.

- Very low food security: Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

In terms of nationwide impact, the numbers are distubring and, for some people, all but unbelievble in a nation with the standard of living the United States has:

- 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children.

- 14 percent of households (17.4 million households) were food insecure.

- 6 percent of households (6.9 million households) experienced very low food security.

- Households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 19 percent compared to 12 percent.

Food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 4 percent in Slope County, North Dakota, to a high of 33 percent in Humphreys County, Mississippi.

Fourteen states exhibited statistically significantly higher household food insecurity rates than the U.S. national average of 14.3percent between 2012-14. The top five states will not surprise many:

- Mississippi, 22 percent

- Arkansas, 19.9 percent

- Louisiana, 17.6 percent

- Kentucky, 17.5 percent

- Texas, 17.2 percent

No season is identified more with plenty and prosperity than Christmas and the other winter holdays. Food pantrys and feeding programs are too numerous to list in one article, but a telephone call to United Way or a local religious congregation can put you in touch with a food pantry or continuing feeding program.

It would be difficult to find a better way to conclude one year and begin a new one than helping many people and households become food secure.




Dec. 22

The Dispatch on the body camera footage of the shooting death of Ricky Ball:

When the Columbus Police Department released video on Tuesday from the body cameras worn by the three CPD officers who were involved in the Oct. 16 shooting death of Ricky Ball, the most relevant video - that taken immediately after the shooting was not included.

While none of the officers activated their body cameras when the fateful stop was made on that Friday night, one officer did turn on his camera about 30 seconds after the shots that claimed Ball’s life were fired. That video is now part of the continuing investigation by Mississippi Bureau of Investigations and was not part of the roughly two hours’ worth of video released Tuesday.

Instead, those who followed the link to the video from the CPD’s Twitter and Facebook pages saw the previous interactions between two of the officers - Canyon Boykin and Max Branch - and the citizens who were stopped earlier in the day of the shooting. There were 13 interactions altogether. The third officer, Yolanda Young, apparently did not turn on her body camera at any point on the day of Ball’s shooting.

All were routine stops and no serious breaches of police policy were revealed, according to the CPD.

Some might question the value of releasing these videos. Some might question the CPD’s motives.

But after viewing the video and hearing interim chief Fred Shelton explain the purpose of releasing the videos, we are satisfied that there is some value in making the information available to the public and that the CPD’s motives should not be considered entirely self-serving.

Our first look at the video produced by body cameras reveals that the quality of the video and audio are quite good. You can both see what the officer is seeing and hear the exchanges between the officer and the subjects they are questioning. As such, the value of the information taken from body camera should be considered reliable, something that should help establish a clear narrative of what transpires in these interactions. That’s important for both the officer and the citizen because the video eliminates much of the “he said/she said” nature that often clouds these incidents. The video should not be viewed as entirely comprehensive; it provides a look and listen only from the officer’s perspective and cannot capture things that might be happening outside the scope of the body camera. Even so, there is no questioning that the body camera information is helpful.

As for the CPD’s motives, it does show the department is serious about sharing information with the public. Shelton said he favored releasing future videos of stops that might be controversial - naturally, after investigations of those incidents have been completed. Shelton also said the videos could be used to help train officers, expose flaws and explore ways in which officers can be more effective in their work.

The release of these videos shows a continuing commitment to making sure the body cameras are used to further the interests of public safety. Last week, the city council approved tougher measures to make sure officers and their supervisors are held accountable for following body camera policy.

So, while Tuesday’s videos did not reveal - quite literally - the “smoking gun,” we feel releasing the information was a step forward.



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