Other than anecdotes about his family, there wasn’t much new in Gov. Phil Bryant’s inaugural address.
Like he has for most of the past four years, Bryant used his platform to talk economic issues: job-creation, education, the high cost of teenage pregnancy and his political pet project, performance-based budgeting.
The energy and healthcare industries, Bryant said, are two areas ripe for growth over the next decade-plus. The extraction and processing of natural gas, biofuels and clean coal can – and according to Bryant, will – help the state in its revolution from low-wage industrial haven to modern manufacturing empire.
Offering incentives for the healthcare industry, and bringing 1,000 new physicians to Mississippi by 2025, can turn the state’s metro areas and their medical corridors into burgeoning centers of medical power, Bryant said.
Having a stable of workers to fill those jobs will require a shift in thinking when it comes to public education, he said. Solutions don’t begin and end with funding, but will take redesigning curriculums to better serve students not on a college track, but headed for vocational employment, and a clearer path for charter schools to establish.
“When a Mississippian has a job, it changes absolutely everything,” Bryant said.
Bryant saved his strongest words for the state’s high teenage pregnancy rate, which has become as much of a Mississippi hallmark as the state’s musical and literary heritage.
“It must come to an end,” he said, adding that churches and other religious organizations have to partner with public institutions in reaching that end. “We can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”
Bryant compared the cultural change that would have to happen to do that to the one that has managed to eradicate smoking in nearly every public building and gathering spot in Mississippi, including the Capitol. He noted that a lot of folks 40 years ago would have filled the place with cigarette and cigar smoke during his address.
Obviously, Bryant’s plans will be met with a great deal of resistance in the Capitol, some from within his own party, but mostly from Democrats, who just watched their long-held power and influence all but evaporate.
Bryant’s Smart Budget Act, which bases agency funding on results achieved, is wildly popular with fiscal conservatives, but not with many agency heads, who cite the difficulty in tracking those results, not to mention the ease with which those results can be manipulated.
With a Republican-led Legislature, though, its passage is likely, if not guaranteed. The same goes for Bryant’s education reforms, though it’s worth noting the funding fight is likely to be as spirited as it’s ever been.
The wild card in that notion will be just how badly new legislative leadership – Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – want to return Mississippi’s government to one in which lawmakers hold the majority of power.
Either way, the game is afoot.