Legislature missed an opportunity
by Ed Darling
Published: June 22,2009
Months ago, before the economy plunged into its current state, a novel idea aimed at luring new industry and creating hundreds of jobs for both Mississippi and Alabama surfaced.
The theory, if I recall correctly, was that the two states would work closely together, identify an East Mississippi-West Alabama corridor of mutually beneficial geographic interest in the Meridian area, plan the appropriate infrastructure and market the land in a cooperative effort, targeting big industry capable of providing quality, high-paying blue chip jobs in the hundreds.
Regionalization was the catch word, and those who heard the plan admitted it was a unique approach.
Skeptics, however, laughed, suggesting it was a concept better suited to paper than reality.
The reasoning seemed logical then. Simple, basic questions emerged quickly. Things like how, even if friendly and progressive governors pushed it, could two state Legislatures work together when each had their own share of problems within respective state boundaries? Who would assume the “in charge” role? How would a site be selected? How would development expenses and marketing budgets be divided? Who would have the authority to negotiate and make deals? And the list lengthened quickly.
Whether or not the project remains on the drawing board, I don’t know. But the lingering delay Mississippi has experienced in attempting to create a $5-billion budget for a new fiscal year that begins in 16 days sends all too clear an embarrassing message, one that dulls any thoughts of working with another state.
We can’t get our own act together.
Legislators here, good men and women they may be, would rather play I, me and my games than develop a us, we and our strategy. Cooperation and trust might as well be words penned in a foreign language. And the lack of leadership and statesmanship, more than its people, its geography and its heritage, are reasons we find Mississippi at the bottom of virtually every ranking.
It is a dismal saga, worse still in that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Key issues – Medicaid, education, shrinking revenue, etc. — are no different than when the Legislature convened Jan. 6. Only the solutions have changed. Only the decisions have been lacking. Only the direction is missing.
Soon, amid shouts the other side was at fault and dragged down the process, there will likely be the exchange of victorious, congratulatory handshakes and backslaps for a job well done, but any praises are truly shallow.
This Legislature has not performed well.
What surprisingly seemed to begin as a focused session aimed at uncovering real answers to real problems shifted abruptly at mid-stream when the promise of unexpected monies from President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act altered the funding landscape and injected a quick-fix mentality.
When another stalemate, said by veteran legislators to be unlike any in history, blocked other hopes of progress, the remedy wasn’t hard work and difficult decisions, it was another bundle of unexpected one-time funds, this time from a Microsoft monopoly settlement.
Hence, the legacy of this year’s session.
Instead of drafting much needed reform with sound, capable planning and enabling the one-time monies to alter the path of years to come, the Legislature took the easy, short-sighted way out, covering only the necessities of today’s agenda. That seems incredible.
When legislators, in a non-election year, could have taken a pro-active role, eliminated politics, identified critical problems, pushed for accountability, addressed immediate needs and launched the beginnings of a three-to-five-year comprehensive funding and management plan that could have reshaped and repositioned Mississippi, they ignored their responsibility.
Had only a few leaders taken the initiative to step out and guide. Had only a few elected Mississippians sought to disregard the cumbersome past and make a positive difference. Had only politics as usual not been.
Contact MBJ editor and publisher Ed Darling at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him at (601) 364-1021.
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