The State Legislature needs to make some New Year’s resolutions. Allow me to offer my assistance.
Clean up campaign finance. What’s standard campaign finance in Mississippi will send you to jail in most states. Mississippi politicians have been living off their campaign contributions for years and it just shouldn’t be that way. Campaign contributions should go strictly to campaign expenses with mandatory reporting, stiff fines and criminal penalties for abuse.
Even worse, Mississippi office seekers are allowed to keep their contributions when they lose or leave office. There are no restrictions on these excess campaign funds. It is like a personal piggy bank for politicians. This creates the corrupt practice of office holders continuing to raise money while in office. It is legalized bribery and it is illegal in most states. It should be illegal in Mississippi.
In a brazen snub of the people, both the Mississippi Senate and House of Representatives failed to pass these reforms. Sooner or later the people will open their eyes and demand reform. Let’s hope it’s sooner.
Reform our procurement laws. Campaign finance is crumbs compared to all the state government business, which totals $20 billion a year if you include special purpose funds like the highway fund and federal grants managed by the state. Add in local and county business and the number grows even higher – perhaps a third of Mississippi’s $80 billion GDP.
Unfortunately, Mississippi has some of the worst procurement and bidding laws in the nation. Increasingly, government contracts are self-defined as “service” contracts, avoiding any low-bid process. And our state’s bidding standard “lowest and best” is no standard at all. Most states use “lowest responsive bidder” which requires the work go to the lowest bidder who’s responsive to the bid proposal.
States agencies have some regulation on government procurement, but it’s under the governor’s office and susceptible to politics. Cities and counties have no regulation at all. It’s a feeding frenzy at the government trough.
The American Bar Association has spent decades refining a Model Procurement Law to prevent just that type of abuse that’s going on in Mississippi. Some honest, enterprising state senator or state representative needs to introduce a bill for Mississippi to adopt the ABA’s model procurement law. It would do more to clean up our state and raise our standard of living than any one act. It’s no secret that big successful national businesses avoid Mississippi because they don’t want to deal with the pervasive “home cooking” that has become the status quo down here.
End Amazon’s tax exemption. With a recent favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling (see editorial below), the door is open for the legislature to quit subsidizing Amazon and out-of-state online retailers at the expense of our local businessess. This is not about a new tax. Sales tax has existed for decades in Mississippi. This is about fairness. There is no reason a local hardware store should pay seven percent when it sells a hammer while Amazon gets taxed zero.
This is real money, hundreds of millions of dollars, which the state desperately needs, especially since the legislature stupidly exempted five or six mega retail malls from sales taxes before realizing their ignorance and repealing the law. We all understand that bricks-and-mortar stores must compete with online, but giving online a seven-percent advantage in a low-margin business is a death sentence. Republicans need to get over their terror of being accused of raising any tax and eliminate this unfair punishment of our local store owners.
Implement a state-of-the-art pre-K program. Everybody knows huge segments of our population are handicapped by poverty and a deficient home environment for hundreds of thousands of children. In the end, the state pays 10 times more for this problem than the cost of early intervention. Just about every other state has figured this out yet Mississippi drags its feet. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck. Mississippi with its poverty should be at the cutting edge of early eduction, not in last place.
Fund eduction at a higher level. There is no way Mississippi can lead the nation in education funding, but it doesn’t have to be on the bottom. Make a commitment to fund education at the average of its neighboring states. That’s an achievable step in the right direction. Simultaneously, we need to implement the private school vouchers, expand charter schools and open the floodgates of competition. With increased funding must come the end of the public education monopoly.
Raise the gas tax so we can maintain our roads. We haven’t raised the gas tax in decades despite inflation and lower mileage vehicles. As we cut maintenance, the life of our roads gets cut in half, which means even more maintenance cost down the road. This is so obvious, yet the “no-tax-under-any-circumstance” Republicans are willing to let our state roads crumble rather than take political heat. Want to see the end result of inaction? Just check out the streets in Jackson.
Stop the golden shovel company subsidy insanity. Let’s hope Gov. Bryant has enough golden shovels in his garage. Those shovels are costing Mississippi a fortune in lower living standards. This is zero sum game. When you subsidize Yokohama and Continental Tires, our small, competitive manufacturers have to pick up the slack and get taxed more. As a result, the competitive, home-grown industries are hurt while the out-of-state subsidized industries get a free ride. These government subsidies open the door for government corruption.
Clean government, open and fair bidding and top-notch infrastructure.
Take the billion dollars a year in federal Medicaid money. If somebody wants to give you a billion dollars a year, take it. Vice President Mike Pence is smart enough to know that. Our state leaders aren’t. Pence negotiated a deal with the feds that allowed greater state control while still getting the money. Our rural hospitals are dying; many have closed. The terribly weak economic performance of our state is directly related to our refusal to expand Medicaid even when the feds will pay for it. Even the Democrats knew enough to do that. Not to mention that it’s the humanitarian thing to do.
Now that the Republicans are in charge and hopefully will repeal some of the more noxious aspects of Obamacare, it’s time for Mississippi to join the rest of the nation and improve health care for its poorest citizens – while giving our rural areas a huge economic boost.