For the past month or so, we’ve been in the process of a strategic plan overhaul at the Mississippi Business Journal.
Strategic planning is a grueling task because it requires us to think about what is not in existence, and forces us to leave the comfortable routine of merely continuing to do what we have been doing. It strains our brains and forces whatever creative talent we have to the surface.
As arduous as the process may be, it is the most important function of senior management.
As Mississippi reaches the end of a very difficult legislative session, I can’t help but wonder if our state’s leaders are paying sufficient attention to strategic planning for our state.
This column was written before the conclusion of the session, but I am fairly confident of the outcome. The Legislature is probably going to stick to their guns and base next year’s budget on unrealistic assumptions about tax revenue. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has committed to veto the budget bills if they do and legislative leaders are committed to overriding his veto. Nobody wants to be blamed with the inevitable layoffs that must result from the drop in tax revenue.
A decade ago, several communities changed their laws to allow casinos to come into the state. And come they did. Gaming is now one of our leading growth industries.
According to the Mississippi Gaming Commission, which is online at www.msgaming.com, in FY 2000 about 5% of the state’s annual budget came from $315 million in tax collections from gross gaming revenues from the 30 state-regulated casinos. There are nearly 35,000 people employed in casinos statewide, with a payroll of more than $850 million a year. And since July 1992, casinos have paid more than $1.7 billion in gaming taxes. Approximately $1.2 billion have come from state taxes with local governments collecting more than $500 million.
One would think that a tax revenue bonanza of that magnitude would have solved most of our state’s fiscal problems. Did it? Was this new source of revenue properly directed toward strategic purposes or just absorbed into the abyss of government spending?
What are the strategic concerns for Mississippi? Jobs, health care, crime and education are the topics often recited by candidates for elective office. Presumably, these folks have their finger on the state’s pulse and should know what is most important. Have these strategic concerns been adequately addressed by our state’s leadership? Are we better off today in these areas than we were a decade ago?
With respect to jobs, Mississippi must transition from being a mecca for low-skill, low-wage, manual labor jobs to a place offering a higher-skill, higher-wage labor force to satisfy the demands of the New Economy. We cannot compete with offshore labor costs for unskilled jobs. The last decade has witnessed a continuing migration of unskilled jobs out of our state and an attendant decline in manufacturing jobs. The only weapon in our arsenal to combat this job loss is to invest mightily in retraining our existing workforce. The community colleges have performed yeoman’s service in retraining and improving the skills of our incumbent workforce. They have been supported by state funding which has declined in each of the last few years. If better paying jobs is a strategic concern for Mississippi, why has the funding been declining?
Health care is a sticky issue.
Who should pay for health care? The government? The patient? Employers? The issue is unsettled and the constantly rising cost of health care makes it a concern to all. With the constantly escalating cost of providing employees with health care, many employers have been forced to back away from their commitment to foot the entire bill for their employees. Health care cost-sharing between employer and employee has become increasingly common. For all but the indigent and the children of low-income families, government really has no role in funding health care for the citizenry. We have toyed with the idea of government-funded health care for all, but as yet that commitment has not been made.
As a nation, we must decide whether access to health care is a right of citizenship or not.
While substantial difference of opinion exists as to who should pay for health care, there is no doubt who is responsible for addressing crime. Experts say that most crime is drug related. We have committed untold resources in the losing battle to stem the flow of illegal drugs into our country and our state. In spite of the expenditure of those resources, drugs are available in abundance all across our country. In fact, anyone wanting illegal drugs can get them.
With the abundant supply of drugs at our fingertips, to what purpose do we continue to pour our precious resources down the dark hole of intervention? If drugs were legalized, the cost of feeding one’s habit would drop to the point of manageability. Do we really think that de-criminalizing drugs would substantially increase their use? Did de-criminalizing alcohol result in a nation of drunks? Would the drop in crime against the citizenry justify the risk that we would self-destruct? A rich source for strategic thinking.
The change from the moral-based “Greatest Generation,” which won World War II, built the United States into a superpower and created an economy the rest of the world envies, to the self-absorbed generation of the 1960s has wreaked havoc in our society. No amount of law enforcement can control a morally-depraved society.
As parents, we have failed miserably. What role should government play in equipping our children with the values they should have gotten at home? What can government do, if anything? Has government done too much of the wrong thing already?
Our state and local governments, with the strong support of parents, are responsible for educating our young people. Mississippi has lagged behind the rest of the country in its commitment to education for all of recorded history. In fact, this is the number one problem we face.
Did we solve the education problem in our state with the buckets and buckets of gaming tax revenue that arose in the 1990’? If we had designated all of the gaming tax revenue to education would that have solved the number one problem facing Mississippi? Did we? If not, why not?
A new millennium presents a fresh opportunity to solve some old problems. Can our elected leaders forget their own re-election for long enough to give Mississippi the strategic planning it deserves?
I can’t see where it has happened yet, but I am ever the optimist.
Thought for the Moment – We must become the change we want to see. — Mahatma Gandhi
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.