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CARTER: College Board forecast session diverted from productive discussions


File Tuesday’s College Board economic forecasting conference under “Missed Opportunities.”

Here was an opportunity for a seriously detailed discussion on what steps Mississippi can take to avoid a bleak forecast that jobs growth in many of the state’s business sector won’t return to pre-2007 levels until 2020 at the earliest. Instead, a filibuster on the subject of Medicaid as an economic development tool hijacked the day.

I’ve heard Francis X. Rullan hold forth on Medicaid before and found it odd that someone with such an aversion for the health care safety net serves as the main spokesman for the Mississippi Division of Medicaid. It takes no prompting to get an earful from Rullan on what he sees as the many negative aspects of expanding Medicaid coverage to approximately 300,000 of Mississippi’s working poor who lack any health care coverage.

Rullan is quite helpful, however, in assisting media with their information requests, which is the important part of his job. He’s just overly eager to share his personal views, a circumstance that makes it difficult when a journalist goes over his notes later and tries to distinguish between the personal commentary and the nuts-and-bolts information sought in the first place.

In any event, it is indeed unfortunate that a debate over Medicaid as an economic development driver diverted discussion away from more constructive areas. (Incidentally, anyone who doesn’t think Medicaid is an economic engine in Mississippi needs only to look at revenue figures for University Medical Center in Jackson. Of the center’s $541 million in patient billings from July 2011 to May 2012, Medicaid accounted for 33.6 percent, the center says).

State economists predicted in an “Outlook” report issued in October that Mississippi will be nearing the end of this decade before job numbers in manufacturing, leisure & hospitality and several other sectors returns to the pre-recession levels of 2007.

That is dismal by any measure. Having a room full of economics, financial experts and business sector representatives discuss how to avoid that scenario would have been much more productive than providing a forum for a department spokesman whose principal job his media communications.

The College Board forecast session also would have been a good time to discuss the state’s worrying trend of small business failures. Business bankruptcies rose 129 percent in Mississippi between 2000 and 2010, versus an increase of 60 percent in the United States as a whole, the Outlook report noted.

Under-performance was especially notable among small firms in professional & business services sector.

Nationally, this sector had the most rapid job growth of any sector since 2010, but in Mississippi employment in this sector has been falling.

“This drop is linked to the challenges facing businesses here,” Marianne hill, senior state economist, said in the Outlook report.

An indepth discussion at Tuesday’s College Board conference on overcoming those challenges would have been worthwhile.

There’s always next year.



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