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Is sugar the new nicotine?

March 1st, 2010 No comments

As we mentioned earlier, Judith Phillips, a research analyst with the Stennis Institute of Government, was the keynote at today’s monthly luncheon meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.

Phillips released the findings of a report she just completed that looks at some of the facts and figures associated with obesity – more specifically, how much sugar-sweetened drinks contribute to the condition.

Mississippi is at or near the top of almost every list that ranks the most obese states in the U.S.

Figures from 2008, the latest that are available from the Centers for Disease Control, tell us that 33.4 percent of Mississippians are considered obese relative to their Body Mass Index, which measures height and weight to determine if a person is obese, overweight, at his ideal weight or even underweight. Mississippi is first on that list, followed in second place by Alabama, at 32.2 percent.

The CDC also puts Mississippi at the top of deaths per 100,000 people that are obesity related. In 2006, the latest year for which numbers are available, 270.9 Mississippians died of heart disease, which is the most common obesity-related disease that causes death. Alabama, at 253.3 deaths per capita, is second on that list, too.

In 2009, according to Phillips, Mississippi spent $700 million in Medicaid money to treat obesity-related conditions. Phillips said that number is expected to rise above $1 billion the next decade, as states are forced to pick up bigger portions of their Medicaid tabs.

“Action is needed (to combat obesity and pay for the tratment of related illnesses and diseases) but that decision is left up to the decision-makers,” Phillips said, adding that her report wasn’t meant to forge policy, but to provide information to those who make policy decisions.

A bill that would have added an excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas has already died this legislative session.

But the issue is far from over.

Rep. John Mayo, who authored the bill this session, has said repeatedly the past few months that he will continue to introduce similar legislation. Phillips’ report says that a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks would produce an average of $145 million per year in revenue the next four years; a tax-per-ounce of 1.5 cents would generate an average of $187 million per year over that same period. A two-cent-per-ounce tax would produce an average of $208 million over the next four years.

Ron Aldridge, who is the Mississippi director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, also serves as the executive vice president of the Beverage Association of Mississippi, which staunchly opposes any excise tax on its sugar-sweetened products.

Aldridge said the BAM led the charge in 2007 as Mississippi became the first state to remove full-calorie sugar-sweetened beverages from public schools.

“This thing is not about whether or not our beverages cause obesity. There’s been no scientific study that says that. There’s been no scientific study that proves there’s a direct link to that, either. What they do say is that it’s about calories in and calories burned.

We believe we need to attack obesity at every front. The public schools have done an excellent job of that. Taxes aren’t going to make us healthier. That’s the reality of it.”

This sounds a lot like the rhetoric that surrounded the cigarette tax in its first years of debate at the Capitol. Legislation to levy an excise tax on cigarettes died the first three or four times lawmakers attempted to move it forward. While it’s not certain that a soda tax will pass, like the cigarette tax eventually did, what is certain is that it’s an issue that will be a part of the next handful of legislative sessions.

Categories: News, Politics, State revenue Tags:

Bill deadline tomorrow — guns bill to live or die

March 1st, 2010 No comments

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my story in this week’s MBJ about the bill that would allow people who have valid concealed weapon permits to carry their firearms into public parks, unsecured public buildings and bars and restaurants, if owners choose to allow them to do so. The angle that we pursued was the bar and restaurant conundrum. Not surprisingly, people on both sides of the issue have strong feelings about handgun possession in places that serve alcohol.

The bill sits in the House Judiciary B Committee, and since it originated in the Senate, it must clear Judiciary B by 8 p.m. Tuesday, or it dies. Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, chairs Judiciary B, but Magnolia Marketplace was unable to corner him for comment before press time last week.

Also arriving just a little too late for the print edition was a statistic from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, which issues the weapon permits, which shows that 14,004 people in Mississippi have a valid concealed weapon permit. That number is as of Feb. 26.

On the agenda today is the monthly luncheon meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps, in which Judith Phillips, of MSU’s Stennis Institute of Government, will discuss her research and report, “Obesity and Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: An Overview for Decision-Makers.” The effects of soft drinks on public health and its impact on the state’s bottom line, and whether they should be taxed, has gotten a good amount of play this legislative session.

Magnolia Marketplace will have the particulars as soon as they’re available. Stay tuned.

Categories: News, Politics Tags:

Bryant: Barbour’s veto will be sustained

February 24th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour earlier today vetoed Senate Bill 2688, a bill that would have restored money to some agencies after budget cuts, because he said in a press release that “it spent too much of the state’s reserves and ineffectively divided funds among several agencies. This legislation would virtually guarantee higher taxes within a few years,” Barbour said of the bill’s use of one-time money to fund recurring expenses .

Specifically, Barbour said the bill spent too much of the Health Care Trust Fund and the state’s rainy day fund to fill some of the gaps left by budget cuts, which have totaled more than $400 million since the fiscal year started last July.

Barbour had signaled his intentions to veto the bill almost from the moment it cleared both chambers of the Capitol about a week ago. There had been some strong indications that Barbour’s perfect veto record would acquire its first blemish once the legislation headed back to the House and Senate.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, in a statement released about 10 minutes ago, doused cold water on that notion.

“It is my intent to sustain the Governor’s veto and immediately move on SB 2495,” Bryant said. “This bipartisan compromise allocates nearly $40 million to restore cuts made to education. It also places a total of $16 million, including $14 million that we did not anticipate receiving, to the Department of Corrections. In all, SB 2495 restores $82 million of cuts made to state agencies for FY 10. I will continue to work with the Governor and the House leadership to reach a fair and reasonable solution without compromising the state’s savings account.”

Obviously, if enough senators vote to override Barbour’s veto, Bryant’s plan will fail. With the House all but certain to override Barbour’s veto, it will be up to Bryant to muster enough votes in the Senate to sustain it.

Barbour’s undefeated veto record has come close to entering the realm of political legend. Magnolia Marketplace will never forget Barbour’s veto last session of a bill that would have eliminated the use of eminent domain for economic development projects. The bill originally cleared the Senate 52-0. His veto was sustained with a handful of votes to spare.

“That’s the damndest thing,” said Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute, shortly afterward the Senate sustained the veto.

It sure was.

Barbour does nothing to quiet presidential speculation

February 22nd, 2010 No comments

We reported last week that Gov. Haley Barbour has a big fundraiser coming up Sunday after next whose price tag would suggest it’s going to be used to fund a very expensive race.

This weekend’s meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington did nothing to slow down the rumor mill. Barbour told the Associated Press he had still made no firm plans one way or the other about running for the White House but did say, “If you see me losing 40 pounds that means I’m either running or have cancer.”

Magnolia Marketplace believes Barbour when he says he is focusing on this fall’s midterm elections and the next wave of gubernatorial races and not giving much serious thought — yet — to a presidential run. We also believe, though we have nothing to confirm it, that Barbour really, really, really wants to run for president, and he thinks he would have a good shot at winning if he did.

As for whether he will, it’s just too early to hazard a guess. By year’s end, though, it most likely will be pretty clear if he is or isn’t.

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

For Barbour, fundraisin’ is racin’

February 18th, 2010 9 comments

An interesting piece  of paper made its way to the desk of Magnolia Marketplace late yesterday afternoon.

It’s a flier announcing a fundraiser for Haley’s Leadership PAC, a political action committee formed by Gov. Haley Barbour. And this isn’t just any fundraiser. To go with a pile of cash, participants better have nerves of steel.

For a minimum gift of $5,000 you can hop in a stock car and take a few laps around Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Barbour on Sunday, March 7. After that, you can rub elbows at a cocktail party with Barbour and casino and resort mogul Steve Wynn.

Obviously, politicians at every level hold all sorts of fundraisers pretty much all the time. But a minimum gift of $5,000 is enough to make reasonable folks wonder if that kind of heavy financial weight might be targeted toward a national race — you know, like the one whose winner gets to live in the White House.

So we called Dan Turner, Barbour’s press secretary, and asked him.

Nothing’s changed regarding Barbour’s plans for 2012, Turner said a few minutes ago. Barbour is concentrating on the midterm elections this fall, in which Republicans think there’s a decent chance they can take one or both of the chambers of Congress, and the few dozen governor’s races that will go down between now and 2012. That’s been Barbour’s response to every one of the million different ways he’s been asked if he’s running for president.

“That’s all I’ve ever heard him say,” Turner said.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your speculation.

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

GOP Chairman: Voter ID close to reaching minimum signature requirement

February 9th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a 10-minute conversation with Brad White, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party.

Nothing is official yet, as the process of certifying signatures is ongoing, but White feels pretty confident enough registered voters have signed petitions in favor of a voter identification law that the issue will appear on the statewide ballot in 2011, giving Mississippians a chance to vote for or against it.

“I’m not ready to jump out and say we’ve got enough, but it looks like we’ve brought in a big enough cushion that we can get there even if the verification process drops some of the signatures,” White said.

Per state law, at least 18,355 signatures from each of the old five congressional districts have to be certified by the circuit clerks of each county in the districts. That would put the minimum number of signatures required for an initiative to make it onto the ballot at 91,673, or 12 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. White said it’s possible the final tally from each of the congressional districts would exceed 20,000, pushing the total from all five above 100,000.

If the initiative does indeed have the requisite number of signatures, it would then head to the Legislature in the 2011 session, where upon its arrival two things could happen: Lawmakers could go ahead and adopt the initiative into law, or they could send it to the ballot for fall 2011.

The county committees of the State GOP, Tea-Party groups and other organizations have spent the past year rounding up signatures for the initiative. Magnolia Marketplace heard reports last fall of people circulating petitions at high school football games, and even witnessed some of the effort firsthand in the Grove.

“This will bring clean voter ID,” White said. “There will be no hangups like people being able to use their electricity bill as identification or anything like that. This initiative mandates that only government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license) is acceptable at the polling places. This is better than any legislative proposal that’s been brought up.”

The Mississippi GOP will hold a press conference Thursday, White said, to update the latest with the certification process.

Categories: Elections, Football, News, Politics Tags:

FY2010 budget cut — again

February 5th, 2010 No comments

Another Friday, another round of budget cuts.

Exactly two weeks after he cut the fiscal year 2010 budget for the third time, Gov. Haley Barbour cut it again this afternoon.

Today’s trim takes $21 million out of appropriated revenues, bringing the total cuts for FY2010 up to $458.5 million.

January was the 17th consecutive month that revenues had fallen short of projections, and Barbour said this afternoon that today’s cuts were “optimistic,” and that it was almost guaranteed  more would be necessary.

After exemptions, which include debt service, court-ordered settlements and — as of early this week, due to an interpretation of the State Constitution — the Supreme Court, FY2010’s revenue has been reduced by 8.664 percent.

Barbour has come under fire for his handling of the budget, particularly from Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives for his refusal to tap into the state’s rainy day fund.

Barbour said of the three revenue estimation models his office uses in deciding how much to cut, he has used the model that calls for cutting the least amount of money, which has forced him to make additional cuts once monthly revenue collections come up short, like they have for the past year and a half .

“If there’s a criticism, it’s that we’re not cutting enough,” Barbour said.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics, State revenue Tags:

Spokeswoman: Prius recall not yet official

February 5th, 2010 No comments

We just got off the phone with Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel. Here’s the full transcript of our brief conversation.

Magnolia Marketplace: “Has anything become official with the Prius recall?”

McDaniel: “No, there’s nothing official. We’re still investigating.”

Magnolia Marketplace: “I’m contractually obligated to ask this question, but will this have any effect on the Blue Springs facility?”

McDaniel: “No.”

So there you have it. Gov. Haley Barbour is holding a press conference at 11 a.m. to announce yet another round of budget cuts, but we’ll try to sneak in a question about Toyota and see what he thinks.

UPDATED AT 9:36 A.M.: Barbour’s office has just issued a press release announcing the press conference at 11 has been canceled so Barbour can “continue to analyze budget options.”

Spokeswoman: Toyota recall will have no bearing on Blue Springs plans

February 2nd, 2010 No comments

Toyota, which has long been considered the gold standard for automotive companies, has taken a substantial hit lately with its recall related to gas pedals sticking to the floor, causing sudden and unintended acceleration. (“Sudden unintended acceleration” — now that sounds scary.)

Anyway, most of the media coverage has focused on how the company will rebound from having to suspend sales of eight of its models, including the Camry, traditionally one of its best sellers.

What the recall will not touch is Toyota’s plans for Blue Springs, according to spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel. “Totally unrelated” is how McDaniel characterized the recall and the question of when the facility in North Mississippi will start production.

Not included in the gas pedal recall is the hybrid Prius, the vehicle Toyota plans to build in Blue Springs whenever it decides to open it.

In legislative news, today marks a major deadline. Bills that aren’t sent out of their committees by midnight tonight will die. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story for next week’s MBJ that takes a look at what died and what survived that is of interest to the business community. Look for it.

Stennis format changes a bit

January 25th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour was the keynote for today’s monthly luncheon meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson. Usually, speakers offer a 20- to 30-minute presentation before taking a few questions from the audience.

Barbour took the podium and started taking questions immediately. It was a nice change.

Anyway, Barbour didn’t say a whole lot that he didn’t say Friday, when he announced that he was making the third round of cuts to the state’s budget.

He did say that he thought “the vast majority of school districts will be fine” financially after the the latest round of cuts brought the total dollars shaved from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program to $170 million for fiscal year 2010. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham said Friday afternoon that the cuts would “devastate” the state’s public education system. School districts will have to lean heavily on their reserves, Barbour said, to make it to the end of the budget  year. Included in Barbour’s executive budget recommendation is a $35 million set aside to assist those districts whose reserves are not as deep as others.

Barbour also repeated a line he has used frequently the past couple months, that he thinks Mississippi will emerge from the national recession quicker than other states because of the proliferation of high-tech manufacturing jobs from projects like Severstal in Columbus and the GE Aviation plant in Batesville. His commission to study school consolidation is scheduled to release its findings in a report on April 1, which is too late for that issue to be considered in the regular session. Barbour said it’s likely a special session would be needed to tackle it. That, of course, is assuming lawmakers are able to craft a budget for FY2011 by the end of March, which is far from guaranteed.

Barbour, who serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also talked some national politics. He called Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts for the right to fill Ted Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat “volcanic” and said it had changed the GOP’s playbook for 2010 and beyond, with candidate recruitment increasing in some places that have traditionally been hostile to Republicans. The RGA, Barbour said, has $25 million to spend on elections in 2010, which is a record amount.

Barbour thinks this political environment is more favorable to Republicans than it was in 1994, when Barbour was head of the National Republican Committee and engineered the GOP takeover of the U.S. House and Senate.

“There’s a lot of energy on our side,” Barbour said.

Barbour also had a pretty interesting take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a 20-year-old law that prohibited corporations and unions from spending money on political advertising. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story about that for next week’s MBJ, and Barbour’s thoughts on the matter will pepper it pretty heavily. Look for it.