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Slimantics: Is Mississippi on the threshold of an economic death spiral?


Slim Smith



Each April, when the Mississippi legislature ends its session, the furor over new legislation generally drifts away and most Mississippians never really feel the consequences of those new laws in any meaningful way. 


This year is different. Very different. 


Even though none of the laws passed in this year's session will go into effect until the beginning of the state's fiscal year on July 1, we are daily reminded of our state's leadership failure to manage the affairs of the state wisely. 


On an almost daily basis, we are seeing the effects of gross mismanagement of our state's economy as state agencies are now forced to make deep cuts dictated by the governor and Legislature as the new fiscal year approaches. 


Last week, it was a cut to the state's rehabilitation services, which provides aid to many of our state's most vulnerable citizens, including vocational rehabilitation and assistance of disabled homeowners who might not otherwise be able to stay in their homes. The week before that, it was a deep cut to the state health department, which will now had to reduce the number of beds available for psychiatric patients. This week, local libraries saw their state's funding whacked, which could force many small, rural libraries to close. Especially in those communities, the local library provides key services that the community relies on, chief among them Internet access, which in today's world is the way people access to programs, job banks, even medical care. 


In many instances, the cuts go far deeper than those numbers alone. Because many programs offered by state agencies are funded through federal matching dollars, the full impact of these cuts is far more draconian that you may realize. Cut out the state funding for a program and the federal money -- often two or three times greater than the state's portion -- goes away, too. 


It may be that you don't benefit directly from any of the announced cuts. Don't worry, though. Your "ox" is about to be gored as well. 


We have yet to hear how the Mississippi Department of Transportation will respond to these mandated budget cuts. Even before this year's session, MDOT faced a serious deficit. It is estimated that MDOT needs an additional $350 billion to bring the state's roads and bridges up to par. 


Not only is that unlikely to happen, it is likely MDOT will have to cut even more from an already insufficient budget. Bear in mind that half of MDOT's money comes from federal matching dollars. 


It is perplexing. At a time when the national economy is improving and unemployment in the state continues to decline, our state leaderships is working to negate those positives. 


Other states are now investing in infrastructure and education as they enjoy the benefits of a growing national economy. In Mississippi, we are cutting state agencies so severely that the services they provide are seriously compromised. We are behind already, and are only going to fall further behind, hopelessly behind, in fact. 


Contrary to what we hear from Jackson, it should be evident that our state does not have a spending problem: It has a revenue problem. 


While no one likes tax increases, there comes a point when reasonable people will see the necessity of them. Like everything else, you get what you pay for. 


There is nothing wrong with ferreting out waste and abuse in state agencies. But the cuts we see today clearly indicate our agencies have exhausted all opportunities to cut waste and are now cutting essential services. 


At some point, Mississippians are going to demand better of our state leadership because if we allow ourselves to become a third-world economy -- with all the ills that come with that condition -- new businesses will not come, no matter how much money the state throws at them -- money that we don't have, by the way. 


Meanwhile, another $400-million-plus in tax cuts, most of it for large businesses, looms on the horizon. 


Mississippi is at the beginning of an economic death-spiral, I fear. 


And the only people who can fix that are those who started it. 



Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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