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Legislators treading on dangerous ground

As I See It

The Legislature is debating some sho’ nuff serious business issues. My main concerns are reduced funding for workforce training and creation of a state labor department. Both of these would be bad for Mississippi business.

By now, everyone is probably aware that state tax revenues are coming in at less than predicted. For several years, revenue projections have been intentionally conservative. The excess of actual revenue over projected revenue goes into a bucket called HB400 and is distributed to the general fund and education. The education portion is split as follows: Department of Education (K-12) — 50%, Institutions of Higher Learning (4 year colleges) — 25% and community colleges get the remaining 25%.

The HB400 bucket is empty this year because projected revenue and actual revenue are approximately the same. Notwithstanding the shortfall, K-12 and four-year colleges are protected from budget cuts by the Ayers’ case. That leaves community colleges to shoulder the funding cuts all alone. The proposed cuts amount to about $18 million and would decimate the community college system.

In my judgment, community colleges are among the best investments taxpayers make in Mississippi. Not only do they provide academic training for the first two years of college, but they are also our first line of defense for workforce training. From an economic standpoint, they are among the most efficient organizations on the ranch.

Last year community colleges provided workforce training to about 100,000 Mississippians. As lower-end, manual labor jobs are exported to Mexico and other places, our workers must be retrained for higher-tech, higher-paying jobs. It is only through re-training our workforce that we can hope to prosper economically. Every time a worker progresses from a $6 an hour job to an $8 job, the average wage rate for Mississippians is increased. That is the real definition of economic progress. With the successes of the last decade, now is not the time to retreat from our obligation to workforce training.

In the overall scheme of things, $18 million is not so much that the Legislature can’t find a pork barrel somewhere to raid in the interest of Mississippi’s workforce. It is the right thing to do and we must demand that the commitment to workforce training be upheld.

Moving now to this asinine idea of forming a state department of labor. This is political payoff to the labor unions and nothing more. The arguments put forth in favor of forming the department are shot so full of holes that they are hardly worthy of mention. Proponents say that all other states have a labor department – pure hogwash! At best, 35 states have such departments and Florida is in the process of dismantling its.

As for the idea that Mississippi lost $50 million in federal funds because we didn’t have a labor department — pure hogwash. We didn’t receive the federal funding because Gov. Kirk Fordice didn’t want it. We already have in place several suitable institutions which could have qualified to receive the federal funding had the administration so desired.

What we are left with is the real issue: strengthening the influence of organized labor in Mississippi. That would be a detriment to all of us. A major reason for Mississippi’s success in attracting new industry to our state over the last decade has been our reputation as a business-friendly state. A labor department will create mindless and endless red tape in order to justify itself and work to change our image to one of business hostility. Good for labor bosses; bad for Mississippians.

We applaud the recent appointments of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. He is showing balanced judgment in selecting department heads who will administer the state’s business fairly, energetically and efficiently. We regret his support for the formation of a state labor department and hope the initiative fails.

Mississippi does not need to take a step backward toward a business environment that will result in a boon for Mexico and continuing poverty for us.

THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

— JAMES 1:12

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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