Gov. Ronnie Musgrove talks with students at Operation Shoestring about his role as governor of the State of Mississippi. His Dec. 20 visit was part of Project KIDS, a community-based after-school program that provides educational and cultural support to K-6 graders
JACKSON — As 2002 unfurls, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove begins the second half of his term as the state’s leader.
The Mississippi Business Journal chatted with him about successes, disappointments, challenges for the upcoming legislative session and about possible re-election plans for 2003.
Mississippi Business Journal: It’s been a busy two years since you took office. Other than the major coup of landing one of the top economic deals in the world with Nissan last fall, what do you consider the most important successes?
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove: In these uncertain times, my first priority is protecting Mississippi families. I’m working to make our schools better, to bring jobs to our local communities, and to provide quality health care for every generation of Mississippian.
My administration’s main focus has been educating our children and training a workforce that can compete. We raised teacher pay from 49th in the nation to 19th. We have more national board-certified teachers than 44 other states — the sixth highest in the nation. And we’re on track to be the first state in the nation to have Internet-accessible computers in every classroom by the end of 2002. We increased the number of children of working families under the children’s health insurance program, from 574 to over 45,000. We’ve passed the most extensive major accountability bill for our schools, possibly in the history of our state.
Also, we passed a new economic development strategy, the Advantage Mississippi Initiative, and as a result, it moved us from last place to first place against our competing states. Our expansion of existing business has been very good, especially in a slowing economy, and we will be going to Korea to meet with business leaders to explain Mississippi’s ability to compete with anyone, any time, anywhere.
MBJ: What about disappointments?
RM: We have a plan of action to deal with major areas of concern for our citizens. We will continue to work on those. The biggest disappointments come when we don’t implement them fast enough. Mississippi has a bright future. We’ve charted a path that’s covered with obstacles but surrounded by tremendous opportunity. We’ve been fortunate to focus on those opportunities and make them available for our people.
MBJ: What’s the outlook for existing and potential business and industry and economic development in Mississippi?
RM: There’s greater potential in Mississippi because of the Advantage Mississippi Initiative. And because of the leadership of Bob Rohrlack, we will be even more competitive than ever before.
MBJ: What’s the status of the state budget and tax collections?
RM: A budget ought to be a blueprint for success, not a prescription for disaster. We are in a national recession and we must make good decisions that will look to the long-term for our people. We must use real numbers and develop real strategies that focus on the most important needs of our people. In uncertain times, we must provide good job opportunities for our people so we will have a sense of stability in our state.
MBJ: Other than the state budget, what challenges do you foresee in the upcoming legislative session?
RM: Developing a long-term approach to fiscal responsibility.
MBJ: Is a state department of labor still on your wish list?
RM: My goal has always been to secure the maximum amount of federal funding that goes through the federal department of labor. Mississippi has all of the aspects of a department of labor scattered through about eight agencies. My objective has always been to pull those together without increasing bureaucracy so we could capture more available federal funds for training in the workforce. That has not happened, so we have been vigilant on trying to secure every available dollar we could for training in Mississippi.
MBJ: Does Mississippi need tort reform?
RM: Mississippi needs a stable business environment. Business and industry need to feel comfortable that they are on a fair, level playing field. Any time that field gets out of kilter, we need to look at it so that we will be competitive. I will be working with business and industry and the Legislature to ensure that we remain competitive.
MBJ: What is your view on the redistricting situation?
RM: Congressional redistricting should be done by the Legislature in the Capitol, not in the courtrooms. We have witnessed an abdication of that responsibility and a disagreement and struggle as to whether a state court or federal court will draw the districts. Neither should be faced with that responsibility.
MBJ: What are your plans for campaign 2003?
RM: My major responsibility is bound in my duties as governor. We have major priorities we will continue to work on to ensure their completion. We want to increase the number of jobs for Mississippians and implement a new health care plan for our state. Those efforts take time and energy and my concentration will be on improving the quality of life for Mississippians. We’ll talk about Campaign 2003 at an appropriate time.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org</a.