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Have sense of urgency and a willingness to listen

The last sentence of Rep. Brad Jones remarks following Gov. Haley Barbour’s State of the State address last week may tell it all: “By holding fast to priorities like a revived infrastructure, superior public schools and a fully funded Medicaid program, we can lay the groundwork for a better Mississippi. Working together, we can and will prevail.”

That last part — working together — seems to be the part that is going to be the problem.

Neither Gov. Barbour, nor the Republicans, nor the Democrats seem to be in any mood to work together toward resolving the big issues of 2009, which mainly revolves around the budget, Medicaid and education.

Jones, a Representative from Pascagoula and vice chairman of the House Insurance Committee, gave the Democratic Party response.

Point by point, Jones went down the list of Barbour’s speech and rebutted each and every one.

And the Democrats seem hell bent on spending the $360 million rainy day fund that we have built up over the last several years.

Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville is already working to pry $17 million away from the Rainy Day Fund for education.

We have to be careful about the money we have in the Rainy Day Fund.

Barbour has come out and said the state’s Rainy Day Fund must last at least four years in order to accommodate predictions of a deep and long recession. The projected depth and severity of the recession, according to Barbour, means Mississippi needs to spend tax dollars wisely.

That is a fair statement.

We have not heard a similar plan from the Democrats as to how to manage our Rainy Day Fund. Maybe if we heard an overall plan, then the first shot over the bow with the $17 million wouldn’t be such a shock.

As Jones said, “We must stand firm in our commitment to providing a quality education to all Mississippi students.”

However, we have to have a plan.

Fully funding for the sake of fully funding doesn’t work if we bankrupt the state in doing so.

Then, on the other side, Gov. Barbour repeated his stance on wanting to reinstate the $90 million hospital tax “to conform with federal constraints so that hospitals can resume receiving $6 Medicaid compensation for every $1 they pay in taxes.

“Hospitals created this assessment to pay their fair share into the program,” Barbour said.

But Barbour did not say one word about using a possible tobacco tax to help offset a hospital tax that could cripple and end up closing hospitals across the state.

While Barbour has said that he will at least consider a tobacco tax, he wants only to raise it to around 40 cents from 18. The Democrats have previously asked to raise the tax to $1. Neither would completely take care of the Medicaid issue, but Barbour and the Republicans need to make a move to the middle on this issue.

Considering the economic crisis we are in as a state and a country, there must be a sense of urgency about the business of Mississippi. But all parties have to be willing to take part, and more importantly, listen to all options on the table.

We are not doing that at the moment.

Contact MBJ managing editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com.

About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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