- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:


July 26

The Enterprise-Journal of McComb on state tax policy:

The minds of the Republican leadership in Jackson work in some strange and mysterious ways. They take total control of the Capitol, pass an estimated 40 tax-cutting measures over five years’ worth $760 million annually - and now they say it’s time for a tax study.

You would think that before they went on their tax-cutting binge, they would have studied the potential repercussions of what they were doing. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that lawmakers had a study, sought from and provided by the state’s business community this past year, calling for a tax increase to pay for repairing the Mississippi’s deteriorating roads and bridges, and they ignored it.

Mississippi has “studied” its tax code several times over the decades. What the research has consistently shown is the state’s tax structure is tilted in favor of the well-to-do - both individuals and corporations - and heaviest on those at the lower end of the income ladder.

The state has a light income tax that caps at 5 percent and a heavy general sales tax of 7 percent. As a result, those who spend the majority of their income on essentials, such as food, clothing and other taxable goods and services, shoulder a disproportionate tax burden.

It is politically remarkable - not to mention socially unjust - that such an inequity has persisted in a state where the percentage of people at or near the poverty level is greater than anywhere else in the country. If anything, the inequity has only gotten worse in recent years, as the tax cuts enacted by the GOP leadership have been mostly directed at helping corporations both generally (the elimination or reduction of inventory and franchise taxes) and specifically (gargantuan tax breaks given to foreign-owned car and tire manufacturers).

Tax breaks to those who need it the least have been enacted, instead of giving relief to those who need it the most. If Mississippi could afford to cut taxes - a dubious proposition given the state has been stuck in the economic doldrums for almost a decade now - it should have cut the grocery tax. Mississippi is one of only a few states that charges the full tax rate on groceries.

The new tax study panel is being headed by House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. They have given it at least the appearance of bipartisanship by putting five Democrats on the committee, but there is little doubt about what the results will be.

Any objective analysis of tax policy would have to show the mistakes the Legislature has made in recent years, including the $415 million tax cut passed a couple of months ago. Don’t look for Gunn and Reeves to fess up to that.




July 26

The Greenwood Commonwealth on state government bureaucracy:

When Mississippi legislative leaders announced recently a comprehensive study of the state’s tax structure and spending, they assigned one committee the task of examining the amount of bureaucracy involved in running state government. It’s an area that definitely merits a close look.

A couple of years ago, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann compiled a list. He turned up more than 200 state agencies, boards and commissions.

The ClarionLedger did some more digging. It found that some of these entities have dubious value, operate more like protectionists than regulators and seem to overlap in their duties. Some are located in outofthe-way places - as far away as 100 miles from Jackson - for the convenience of those who operate them rather than for the convenience of those who fall under their regulation or might need their services. It’s an inefficient hodgepodge that has only gotten worse over the years.

“Some boards and commissions have gone dormant, haven’t met for years,” the Jackson newspaper reported. “Others are active and collect fees from those they regulate. Some have minuscule budgets, no salaried staff and work under the auspices and out of the offices of larger agencies. Others spend millions a year, hire many staff members and rent private office space. Many of the board members and staff like to travel and have spent thousands going to conferences in places such as Hawaii or Nova Scotia to hang out with other states’ bureaucrats.”

The bureaucratic sprawl apparently was fueled by an otherwise beneficial court decision from the 1980s, when thenAttorney General Bill Allain successfully sued the Legislature to halt lawmakers from serving on executive boards and commissions, in violation of the constitutional separation of powers. Lawmakers could have turned these duties over to the governor and other officials in the executive branch. Instead, they often created a bureau, board or commission to deal with even minuscule issues, then left them largely unmonitored.

As a result, you have oddities such as the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners being based in Louisville because that’s where its executive director lives. Or boards on top of boards, such as an advisory board to the state Board of Animal Health. Or issues that have little reason for government involvement at all, such as an advisory committee for interior design.

Some of these entities need to be abolished, some need to be consolidated, and some need to be moved into available stateowned space in Jackson. But it won’t happen without a fight.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves correctly predicts that if the Legislature tackles this, most of these entities have constituencies that will resist change. Let the resisters put up their arguments. Most of them, we predict, won’t pass commonsense muster.




July 22

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on health care in the region:

Northeast Mississippi health care and health status in a new health system report validates two hospital referral regions encompassing virtually all of the northeast counties with some improving scores.

A comprehensive report issued by the Commonwealth Fund of New York placed the Tupelo region and the Memphis region (which includes Holly Springs, Corinth and Ripley) ahead of the Jackson Meridian, Gulfport, Oxford and Hattiesburg referral regions, which were lower in state rankings.

The Commonwealth Fund, a respected agency, has been involved in health care, research and related venues for almost a century. Tupelo’s first community hospital was established, in part, with help from the Commonwealth Fund. That hospital became North Mississippi Medical Center and its affiliated system.

The Commonwealth Fund was privately endowed with the equivalent in 2016 money of $899 million.

The Commonwealth analysis found the Tupelo region did not have the highest per capita income, but it does have strong community and health resources.

It’s important to pay attention to the commentary from institutions with a long record of integrity and analytical accuracy.

One of the strong points in making the progress in the Commonwealth measures is doing what is possible with what is locally controlled.

Tupelo and Oxford, for example, had high marks in hospital safety and reduction of readmissions.

NMMC Chief Executive Officer Shane Spees said, “We’ve stepped it up a notch.”

Spees pointed out improvements in breast cancer mortality, work to improve colorectal cancer deaths rates, and connecting people to health education, prevention and health awareness knowledge.

All hospitals try to stay a step ahead of any kind of glaring deficiencies because several categories interlock to indicate efficiency and quality:

- Health care delivery

- Closing the equity gap in health care for black Americans

- Treating chronic diseases

- Prescription drug use

- Health Care coverage

- International health policy

- Vulnerable Populations

- Interface with Medicare, and systems

Despite incremental progress in some measures, important health measures still place our state near or on the bottom.

The number of physicians per 100,000 people is led by Massachusetts, with more than 400. Mississippi has about 180. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the national average is 260.5 active physicians per 100,000 people, ranging from a high of 421.5 in Massachusetts to a low of 180.8 in Mississippi.

We rank 48th in female physicians (23 percent), while Massachusetts has 38.4 percent.

One bright spot shows an increase in medical students since 2003, when it was about 500, to 833, and addition of a whole new category, osteopathic medicine.

In addition, more than 2,200 nursing students are enrolled in public programs.

Mississippi badly needs to make more than incremental progress because of the abnormally high rates of chronic preventable disease in our state. Professional adequacy will help reach that status.



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