- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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July 12

The Greenwood Commonwealth on state tax breaks:

Recent tax cuts in Mississippi have been described by some top Republican leaders at the state Capitol as “giving a raise to the taxpayers.”

An oped column this week by contributing columnist Lynn Evans in Jackson’s ClarionLedger makes the case that most of the “raises” either go to corporations or special interest groups that have effective lobbyists. Perhaps the poor folks benefit from some trickledown crumbs, but direct legislation benefiting the lower income often never makes it out of committee unless it benefits someone with some pull.

Evans’ column focused on the failure to get out of the starting gate a bill authored by Sen. David Blount, a Jackson Democrat, that might have provided better grocery shopping in economically distressed communities.

Called the Grocery Stores in Food Deserts bill, the measure would have provided limited tax credits for supermarkets locating in those communities as well as a sales tax exemption for building materials used in constructing the stores.

These are incentives similar to those used to lure big corporations to build factories in the state. In the past, they have been given to construct retail shopping centers in affluent areas and housing complexes for low-income residents.

“There are consequences when communities do not have places for families to buy healthy food like fresh fruit and vegetables,” Evans wrote. “Unhealthy diets too often lead to obesity,” which is a major health problem in Mississippi, which has the nation’s third highest rate in that unflattering category.

Such an incentive program would have had special interest in this area, as Itta Bena has been trying for years to find someone willing to open a grocery store again in that town of 2,000.

Evans’ column reviewed some of the 43 bills for tax cuts spanning 2012 to 2016 that she claims “reduced Mississippi’s revenues by more than $150 million for this fiscal year alone.” They included eliminating the state portion of the alcoholic beverage license tax, multiple tax cuts related to the oil and gas industry, tax breaks for certain major pharmaceutical suppliers and major tax cuts for corporations.

Several of those tax cuts could be defended if it weren’t for the fact that they have put the state budget in a bind and a lot of needed programs, such as highway and bridge maintenance, are being underfunded.

A good argument can be made that the state should just have a level playing field on taxation, treat all businesses the same and quit giving these special incentives to benefit certain segments.

But as long as they’re being dished out, Evans is correct in concluding that “providing tax incentives for opening supermarkets selling fresh fruit and vegetables in food deserts is one way for our state to combat obesity by making it possible for families to purchase nutritious food close to home all year round wherever they live. Less obesity results in real savings to state budgets and makes our workforce more attractive to industry.”

We can surmise that there probably isn’t a huge desire by the big grocery chains to build stores in those “food deserts” even with tax incentives. Had grocers lobbied for Blount’s bill, it probably would have passed.

Online:

https://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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July 10

The McComb Enterprise-Journal on emergency weather alerts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast:

A four-year study of emergency weather alerts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has shown that, in spite of all the recent technological advances that warn the public of bad weather, people are more likely to follow the lead of their friends or relatives before taking action advised by an electronic message.

Two assistant professors from the University of Southern Mississippi performed one of 10 Department of Homeland Security studies that measured the effectiveness of emergency messages on smartphones. They found that people appreciate the alerts but they often fail to get enough information from them.

The biggest problem appears to be that the law requires that cellphone messages to be no more than 90 characters. That prevents forecasters from providing sufficient details, and the studies have prompted the Federal Communications Commission to begin the process of increasing the message length to 360 characters. That will give people more information about what’s going on and where they can seek shelter.

There may be another problem as well: The warnings seem to be appearing more frequently in recent years, both on TV and on cellphones. Residents who live around a siren also hear it more often than 15 or 20 years ago.

This is not meant as criticism of the National Weather Service or civil defense officials. When bad weather is nearby, people need to know. There’s no doubt that better warning systems have helped more people stay out of harm’s way.

However, it’s also likely that every time nothing serious happens when a siren goes off or a cellphone signals bad weather, people become more complacent about future warnings. That’s not a problem - until the danger is real.

Officials don’t have a choice, though. Those who grumble about getting too many weather warnings would be the first to point fingers when a storm unexpectedly spawned a tornado and there was no warning at all.

The USM research was in Mississippi’s three coastal counties, and perhaps the finding that many people see how others react to a severe weather alert refers to hurricanes. When those storms are gathering, there is usually plenty of time - often one or two days - to evacuate or move to higher ground before it arrives.

Tornadoes are far less forgiving. They develop in minutes and move fairly rapidly. Sometimes there can be only a few minutes for people in a twister’s path to flee to safety.

If the USM finding about reactions to a storm alert refers to tornado warnings, the only thing for weather watchers to do is spread the news by all means possible - TV and radio, reverse 911 calls and cellphones - and hope that enough people are paying attention.

There also ought to be ways to expand the use of social media to provide warnings with radar images and other detailed information, the way television stations do it. Perhaps federal officials could get companies like Facebook, which track their users’ smartphone locations, to issue weather warnings to everyone in the path of a dangerous storm.

Online:

https://www.enterprise-journal.com/

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July 2

The Sun-Herald of Biloxi on money from the Deepwater Horizon disaster:

We’ll never get tired of saying this.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred off the Coast. When oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, the damage was widespread. All the Gulf states took a hit. But it never reached Jackson.

So while lawmakers might believe the budget they passed for the fiscal year that began Friday is a disaster, the remainder of the $150 million the state received Friday from BP should not be used to repair that damage. More than $40 million has already been earmarked for the Coast.

The remaining money should be spent on the economic damage here, where the oil spill shut down tourism and fishing for months. It could be used to further restore confidence in the quality of our seafood, for example.

But ever since the settlement was announced, we have heard rumblings from upstate, that perhaps because the Coast didn’t send as much tax money north, the rest of the state suffered, too.

Nice try. But.

For all we know, the disaster isn’t over. Oil remains in the Gulf. We don’t know what the long-range effect of the dispersants used to battle the undersea oil gusher will be.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Legislature took money intended for the Coast and used it elsewhere in the state. Some of the casino tax money collected on and intended for Coast roads was shipped north never to be seen again. All roads eventually lead to a casino, they said.

Our Coast lawmakers may be outnumbered, but they are solidly together, both Republicans and Democrats, on this issue. Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said repeatedly they believe the money belongs on the Coast.

Yet the rumors of an impending raid on the BP money persist.

“After years of litigation and work to identify the economic damage caused by this catastrophe, we reached an agreement that would help to make our coastal communities whole again,” Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday. “However, I am deeply concerned that the state’s legislative leaders may use this payment to try to cover up their self-created budget hole.”

We are, too.

Online:

https://www.sunherald.com/

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