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Mississippi’s Cycle of Insanity

March 29, 2010
tags: state budget, state legislature
by Frank Corder

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog entitled “Tug Fork River Running through Mississippi.” In it I paralleled the feud over the state budget between the Governor and Speaker McCoy’s House with the classic tale of the Hatfields and McCoys. It’s conceivable to think that the lawmakers would have taken something away from the 2009 session, namely the understanding that revenues are down, expenses need to be cut across the board, and the budget must be priority number one going into 2010. Now we’re nearing the end of the 2010 session and after listening to the floor proceedings and talking to some in the know, it seems we’re right back in the same position this year.

What we are seeing in the legislature is simply unacceptable. The state budget is the primary task facing lawmakers each January. I’m of the opinion that no other business should be allowed to come to the floor until the state budget is adopted. Lawmakers should be working on it day in and day out, without excuse, without attention to other proposed legislation. No other issue is as important on the annual agenda as the state budget. And no matter how much the House leadership tries to pass the blame, the Governor is not at fault; yes, he has input, but ultimately the Governor only signs or vetoes what is sent to him by the state legislature. Now, due to the legislators’ lack of handling with their primary task, our state is extending the annual session, possibly even forcing a special session, the mere mention of which is an affront to all Mississippi taxpayers in these tight fiscal times. The excuse as of this week: $187 million in one time federal funds.

It has long been said by citizens and politicians alike that Mississippi seems to always be at the “bottom of the good lists and at the top of the bad ones,” from education to health to housing to the jobs and more. Numerous social, educational, and political campaigns have hinged on the idea of advancing Mississippi, of climbing the ladder of measurable success. Yet, each year in the Mississippi state legislature we continue to hear the same tired rhetoric by the same out of touch liberal leadership (especially in the House of Representatives) that produces the same futile results. State lawmakers continually do the same thing over and over again, year in and year out, and expect different results. It would seem, by Einstein’s definition, we are in a perpetual cycle of insanity in the Mississippi legislature.

Nowhere is this cycle of insanity more prevalent than in the state budget process. Mississippi needs a legislature that will refuse to use one time funds to balance our state budget. One time funds are icing on the already baked cake. If the state budget was drafted and balanced using revenues solely generated by and from Mississippi, when those one time funds do come, imagine the doors that those monies would open for our state. Yes, living within our means will require us to make significant cuts, even in areas we are hesitant to do so, but the ultimate result would surely justify the actions. Mississippi will be more solvent, state government will be more efficient and less intrusive, and local communities will be more in control of their own futures by their lessened reliance on the state.

I know full well what I am suggesting is controversial, especially when it comes to the unfortunate political hot potato of education. I can hear the debate now. But local school districts should not rely so heavily on the state to fund their systems. Depending on the state to subsidize local school districts is a disease we must cure. The willingness of local school districts to live off the state coffers must stop. Upwards of 60% of our state budget is currently spent on education and yet we still have struggling schools and more requests for funding each year. When will we wake up to the fact that money isn’t always the issue? Often, government intrusion is the issue and the more money you take from the government, the more intrusion there is.

Believe me, I agree that education is important and worthwhile. I fully support it in my community. But just like with other federal and state mandates, education in Mississippi’s local school districts suffers at the hands of those not directly involved in the life of the local community. It is far too easy to legislate away from the masses. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The expense of…schools for every county is proposed to be levied on the wealth of the county…” Jefferson understood that it was the responsibility of the local community to support the local schools, if for no other reason than to properly influence and direct the schools’ focus for their children. Jefferson also said, “If twelve or fifteen hundred schools are to be placed under one general administration, an attention so divided will amount to a dereliction of them to themselves. It is surely better, then, to place each school at once under the care of those most interested in its conduct.” Mississippi can see better education but first we must require local school districts to adequately fund themselves, stop playing Robin Hood with local taxing districts, only allow state funding for short term needs or special items as the state budget allows, and demand less state and federal mandates and oversight. It’s amazing how innovative school districts truly are, especially when they lack funding and when they are allowed to think outside the box. If we move towards true fiscal reform in Mississippi and away from the cycle of insanity, soon you will see a revolution in education thanks to enterprising school administrations. Partnerships will be formed between the public and private sectors, between parents and teachers, between neighboring communities and counties. Innovative ways of teaching will emerge and the sterile, boxed in, government controlled environment we have created will be transformed over time, with some growing pains for sure, into a self sustaining, self reliant system of education that best fits that local community. I know that sounds utopian and yes, there are flaws in the argument, but in theory and with a little elbow grease such a notion could revolutionize our public school systems.

Education is just one area, though likely the most notable that must be taken out of the legislature’s annual cycle of insanity. There are other areas that need to be weaned off the state and/or federal till if we are ever going to effectively move forward in Mississippi. A true balanced budget, minus the one time monies, that weans the continual over reliance on the state coffers would be a major first step in breaking the cycle of insanity the Mississippi legislature perpetuates. I trust in reading this you hear the spirit in which I write. It is meant to open a dialogue on issues such as these as we attempt to right the ship in Mississippi.

Of course, another equally impressive step would be to place true conservative lawmakers in the state House and Senate. Do away with the liberal disconnect and thoughts of spend it now and pray for tomorrow as the Speaker and others in his partisan leadership propagate. Thank goodness 2011 is almost here; maybe we can finally stop this cycle of insanity in Mississippi once and for all.

Frank Corder is a Republican City Councilman from Pascagoula. He blogs at and you can e-mail him at . Learn more at

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