Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Natchez Democrat on the 2018 state Legislature beginning:
Lawmakers from all corners of Mississippi headed to Jackson on Tuesday as the 2018 Legislature began.
We urge lawmakers to put aside petty politics and remember an important fact - regardless of their own political preferences they represent all residents in their districts.
Over the last two years, lawmakers have done a disservice to residents by keeping serious discussion and debate out of the public eye. That’s not how America or Mississippi should operate.
Issues expected to consume a considerable amount of lawmakers’ time will be the state’s budget and the state’s funding formula for education.
Both discussions will likely involve the reality that more money is needed than what will be available.
State lawmakers have been struggling to get their hands around the budget over the last couple of years after they’ve cut taxes, but not developed a good plan for reducing spending.
As a result, budgets were cut across the board - sometimes more than once in a single year - without much regard for what was most logically reduced. Those cuts drastically took away funding for some key state services such as mental health programs.
Last year, though no official bill was ever introduced, lawmakers were considering a complete overhaul of the state’s education funding equation. Critics feared those changes would severely disadvantage the state’s more rural and more economically challenged districts.
The state needs to revamp its education funding, but the problem may not be the equation, but the support given to whatever equation is set. For many, many years the current funding system has gone underfunded because of a lack of priority placed on education by the state’s leaders.
Mississippians know they deserve better. Let’s hope lawmakers believe so too.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on Mississippi’s declining population:
An editorial in (the Commonwealth’s) space recently, noting that the population of Mississippi has declined for three straight years, offered suggestions on how to reverse that.
Another analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s population report shows how great a challenge this will be for Mississippi - but it points to a small state that’s doing it.
The Wonkblog column on The Washington Post website included a fine piece that explored why Idaho - of all places - had the largest percentage increase in population this past year, while Wyoming, which shares a border with Idaho, had the largest decrease.
Wyoming’s loss of 5,600 people last year, or 1 percent of its population, is easy to explain: the crash of the coal mining industry.
The Post said less expensive natural gas has reduced utilities’ reliance on coal, and so coal’s price and production have declined. Wyoming produced 25 percent less coal in 2016 than it did in 2014, which explains why the state went from high population growth in 2012 to the lowest rank this year.
Wyoming’s population struggle sounds a lot like Mississippi’s. The Sun Belt is adding plenty of residents - except for Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s the same story out west, where virtually every state in the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest is growing at a healthy clip - except Wyoming.
The problems in Mississippi run deeper. In the past, coal spurred population growth in Wyoming. Mississippi has had no such luck.
The Post analysis included a color-coded chart that ranked each state’s population growth per decade going back to 1900. Wyoming at least has had a few decent decades. The last time Mississippi’s population grew at a rate in the top half of the list was the 1940s.
Idaho, however, is the most fascinating part of the story. It’s a low-population state - at 1.7 million it has a little more than half the residents of Mississippi. So why are people moving there?
The Post suggests it’s because Idaho had to move on from the natural resources in its economy a century ago. It had to diversify, while Wyoming stayed with coal mining. This put Wyoming “at the mercy of the boom-and-bust cycles that characterize the global commodity market and sapped incentive to build up a more robust local economy.”
Idaho, meanwhile, replaced mining with agriculture and forestry, and more recently with manufacturing, technology and services. Something’s working: In 1890, Idaho had 30 percent more people than Wyoming. This year, it has 200 percent more.
Anecdotes say people from more expensive Western states, especially California, are moving to Boise, the largest city in Idaho. Newcomers apparently are drawn to the city because of its size and low cost of living.
So how does all this relate to Mississippi? First, we’re not overly dependent on natural resources such as Wyoming and West Virginia are. And if Idaho used agriculture and forestry to develop, at least Mississippi does a good job with both of those, too.
Cost of living? Idaho is fourth-cheapest in the country, according to a 2017 economic research index. Can you guess one of the three states that beats Idaho? It’s Mississippi.
Here’s how the Post describes the difference between Idaho and Wyoming: “One began with natural gifts and found little incentive to grow beyond them, and another was forced to play a weaker hand but became stronger and more resilient in the process.”
Mississippi has a weak hand but must become stronger and more resilient. Step One would be to send an economic development team out to Idaho for a good look around to see what works. Surely we can learn something.
The Daily Leader of Brookhaven on the Legislature and Mississippi’s needs:
The state Legislature kicked off its 2018 session Tuesday, and the big ticket items are largely unchanged from last year - a lottery, school funding, infrastructure and Medicaid.
On the lottery issue, it appears there is some momentum in favor of enacting it. House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both oppose creating a lottery, but Gov. Phil Bryant has called for lawmakers to enact it as a means to generate additional state revenue.
Reeves told a gathering of Brookhaven civic clubs that “the chances of a lottery are fairly good” back in October.
“I do not believe it is the huge revenue increase that some have said it would be,” Reeves told reporters Tuesday. “Because I think what you would see is some folks that are spending 100 percent of their disposable income . rather than just going to the grocery store and buying a Coke or buying a pack of Nabs, they would instead go and buy lottery tickets.”
In other words, it would not result in as much “new money” as some would hope. Reeves has a valid point and the state’s economist has told lawmakers that a lottery “would create a slight decrease in total economic activity within the state.”
Rep. Becky Currie said she favors a lottery while Rep. Vince Mangold said he has not supported it in the past and is waiting to see a report from a House committee studying the issue.
Those in favor of a lottery would like to see some of that revenue go toward infrastructure, but a more logical approach would be to raise the fuel tax. That’s not likely to happen this year, however.
“I think it’s unlikely either an increase in tobacco tax or gas tax would have the type of support it would take to pass,” Reeves said Tuesday. “I believe that roads and bridges are core functions of government and something we ought to spend more money on in the state of Mississippi.”
No one would disagree with Reeves when it comes to the need for more money, but finding enough has proved difficult for legislators.
Lawmakers will also have to find funding for education. One of last year’s unresolved issues was a school funding formula.
It will not be an easy task to balance the state’s many needs with its meager resources. But lawmakers are sent to Jackson to do just that. If they can’t, voters will find someone who can.
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