Politicians tend to be adept at tactical political thinking. How do I win the next election? How do I get this project my financial backers want approved? How do I keep special interest groups on my side? And so on.
Strategic policy thinking to solve systemic and long-term problems, well that’s another story.
Effective government, however, cannot be singularly driven by tactical political thinking. Strategic policy thinking has a critical role.
As state and local officials assess the decimating impact of the 2020 Pearl River flood, flood control is an appropriate example of the need for strategic policy thinking.
Flood control and prevention seldom occupy public officials’ minds…until a flood happens. Of course, then, all the tactical political thinking in the world is too late to help the victims.
Flood control and prevention require rigorous, strategic thinking over time, and hard, often costly decisions at the federal, state and local levels.
Our more elderly leaders will remember the construction of Sardis, Arkabutla, Enid, and Grenada Lakes as flood control projects. These were made possible by the federal Flood Control Act of 1937, a reaction to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The multi-million dollar project took two decades to complete, starting with Sardis in the 1930s, followed by Arkabutla and Enid, and concluding with Grenada in 1954. Hard decisions included completely relocating the Town of Coldwater.
Following the great Easter Flood on the Pearl River in 1979, numerous flood control and prevention ideas were proposed. But, as WLBT reported in 2016, none were implemented. The latest is the $355 million One Lake project which, while primarily an economic development project, would also provide flood control benefits.
(Many think the Ross Barnett Reservoir is a flood control lake. But it was built in the 1960s primarily as a water supply source with potential economic development as a major factor.)
Until this month, Pearl River flooding occupied few leaders’ minds. Now, for a while, it will. The One Lake project appears to have been rigorously planned, but will federal, state, and local leaders agree on the hard and costly decisions needed to build it? Is it comprehensive enough?
You would hope so. But other strategic policy solutions based on rigorous study have fizzled due to tactical political thinking. The most prominent, of course, is the Mississippi Economic Council’s 2015 study of roads and bridges (https://exceleratems.com/). The study documented maintenance needs and proposed solutions. The conservative Tax Foundation concurred in the method to fund needed repairs. Efforts to raise fuel taxes fell prey to tactical political thinking that taxpayers would un-elect Republican leaders.
Then there are systemic problems that most politicians don’t seriously study much less resolve. Aging water and sewer systems, aging public school facilities, and a stressed trauma care system are examples.
You would think that a state that ranks 50th in so many areas would make strategic policy thinking a top priority. Regrettably, politicians these days seldom turn to studies or rely on objective experts to craft solutions. The consequence is ineffective government and worsening systemic problems.
The only ray of hope I see is Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. He gets it.
“Make plans by seeking advice” – Proverbs 20:18.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.
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