Several weeks ago President Clinton announced a sack full of initiatives aimed at improving the Delta economy. These initiatives, costing about $68 million, are in addition to $159 million in Delta initiatives already in the Clinton 2001 budget. While his ability to deliver the package is in question, it is important to see what he is proposing and what impact it might have on the Delta.
One of the larger items is $30 million to start a Delta Regional Authority that would provide a central point for planning and targeting federal and state resources. Congress rejected a similar proposal in 1998.
Another biggy is approximately $40 million in grants and loans to provide safe drinking water and improve fire protection. The package also includes millions for loans, loan guarantees and grants plus employee training and job placement centers.
Is any of this going to really help improve the Delta’s long-term economic situation? Not according to the Mississippi Legislature’s Speaker Pro Tempore Robert Clark (D-Ebenezer.) According to Clark, “It was absolutely a waste of time.”
It seems that many Mississippians believe the President is primarily concerned with his legacy and needs platforms from which to polish his somewhat tarnished record. Perhaps so.
Government funds are not a permanent solution to economic problems. If no private sector jobs are created, then the economic flame is extinguished when the funds are spent. Alternatively, if government funds are spent in a manner to really spark private initiative, a long-term economic impact will occur.
Many, if not most, Mississippians agree that substandard education is the single biggest impediment to economic progress in Mississippi. We supported Governor Musgrove’s teacher pay raise because we believe that higher teacher pay is a must in order to attract and retain high quality people in the education field. We further believe that, though raising teacher pay is essential, another leg of the stool must be more accountability from our schools.
It is my personal view that substantial changes are needed in school administration. I fear that this gigantic bureaucracy is more attuned to outmoded techniques of education than the simple job of teaching Johnny to read.
Jim Barksdale’s personal initiative in donating a $100 million toward the goal of improving reading skills in Mississippi students will probably have more impact on our state than all of the federal funding President Clinton can persuade Congress to send our way. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Mr. Barksdale and his vision of what needs to happen to make things better in Mississippi and his willingness to commit personal funds toward that end.
In my view, the Delta needs a well thought-out strategic plan for its future. One that will recognize the resources available, the obstacles to be overcome and how best to improve the Delta’s economy. Merely pouring federal funds into the area will provide a temporary shot in the arm and then we will be back where we started.
GOING TO JAIL FOR A GOOD CAUSE
On May 25 I am going to be arrested and locked-up at Hallmark Toyota in Jackson and will be incarcerated until such time as I raise a minimum of $500 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
You can help “go my bail” by sending money to me ASAP. Checks should be made out to the Muscular Dystrophy Association and mailed to me here at the MBJ. The address is 5120 Galaxie Drive, Jackson, MS 39206-4308. The money will be used to sponsor underprivileged children attending camp this summer. I’m counting on my faithful readers supporting this worthy cause and rescuing me from being carted off to Parchman, never to write insulting columns again.
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.