Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood speaks to Marty Wiseman at an Oktibbeha County Democratic Party fundraiser event at the Starkville Sportsplex. Hood was the event's keynote speaker, and spoke about a variety of issues facing Mississippi. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
April 17, 2018 10:41:08 AM
Mississippi faces an array of challenges as it continues to grow, and Attorney General Jim Hood says some of the solutions should be easy.
Hood, a Democrat who has yet to formally announce a gubernatorial bid but is widely expected to run for the office next year, spoke at a Monday evening Oktibbeha County Democratic Party fundraiser dinner at the Sportsplex in Starkville.
Mississippi has grown since the 2008 recession, Hood said, but its economic growth has lagged behind neighboring states, and the rest of the South in general.
"The growth rate of Tennessee has been, I think, about 19 percent," Hood said. "Guess what our growth rate has been since the Great Recession? About 1 percent. The Southeastern average is 16 percent growth since the Great Recession. It's because we haven't invested in our roads and our schools and our people."
Hood drew comparisons to Kansas and Louisiana, where tax cuts placed heavy burdens on those states' economies and said it was "sad" to see Mississippi heading down the same path.
Mississippi has missed out on easy revenue opportunities, Hood said, such as not enacting an internet sales tax that could generate revenue from online sales. The Mississippi Economic Council supported the measure, but legislators didn't move it forward.
Hood said he believed the votes were there to support it, and was baffled as to why it couldn't move ahead.
"It makes you wonder, why don't we support our main street businesses, because that's what supported our way of government for 100 years or 200 years?" Hood said. "They hire people, they have brick and mortar, they pay taxes. They give to every little band booster outfit that comes down the street selling a calendar. They contribute to society, yet the Legislature hasn't seen fit to put them on a level playing field and you've got to wonder why."
Hood also bemoaned the state of the state's roads, comparing the right hand lane of Highway 82 heading into Starkville to a rubboard.
But the biggest threat to Mississippi's future, he said, is "brain drain," or the flight of young, college educated Mississippians to other states. He said the lack of infrastructure to support big companies in rural areas can make it challenging to keep young Mississippians after they finish college. He said the state will have to find ways to support and encourage things like small technology businesses to support growth for tomorrow's economy.
"We've lost more kids in the past six years than any state in the union," Hood said. "What's happening is so many of them have $70,000 in college debt that they can't stay here. They can in this area (the Golden Triangle) because of the technology jobs that have developed.
"But if you're from Houston, Mississippi, where I'm from, we don't have four-lane highways," he added. "It's tough for a Mississippi kid to come back from college and go to work there unless a parents own a business or unless they have a professional degree."
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