The 2004 legislative session convenes this week at the Capitol in Jackson. As the new year and new session get underway, there are an interesting number of changes awaiting members of the State House and Senate.
– Mike Moore has left the building. How well Jim Hood fills his shoes as Attorney General remains to be seen.
– Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who holds arguably the most powerful elected position in the state, has a few new Republican faces joining her as the ranks of the GOP continue to flourish in Mississippi.
– Rep. Billy McCoy, who quickly emerged as the front-runner to replace a retiring Speaker Tim Ford, looks to put his own unique stamp on the House.
– And Haley Barbour appears to have won the race for governor at just the right time, as a slow national and state economy begins to accelerate. A robust business scene could go a long way in helping the state overcome a number of financial difficulties.
But, beyond the personalities and the politics are the issues.
What issues are important to the state`s business community? What should we be paying attention to this year? A few possibilities include:
n The ongoing reform of Mississippi`s judicial system. Tort reform has made a difference, but the process is still in its infancy.
– Workforce training must be funded adequately.
– The money we allocate for education — universities, community colleges and public schools — cannot be sacrificed. Education remains the priority.
– Vigorous economic development is more important than ever, and it is a process that needs to be divorced from politics, as naive a sentiment as that may be — it`s true.
We should be focused on funding the Mississippi Development Authority, supporting meaningful local projects and building a better image of Mississippi as a good place to do business, not petty politics and turf battles.
How well our legislators handle their leadership responsibilities remains to be seen, but we are hopeful. After all, a new year is a time of optimism and the time to embrace the challenges and opportunities life offers.
By working together and with compromise and candor, 2004 promises to be a profitable year.