July 12, 2013 10:23:59 AM
For three years now, the Republican Party has held control of all three branches of Mississippi's government, and if there is one consistent pattern that can be detected it is this: Any idea that lies outside the narrow confines of conservative policy is rejected on the grounds that "we can't afford it."
About the only thing our leaders can afford, apparently, is giving huge tax breaks to big corporations. They justify this by saying that tax breaks help lure those companies to Mississippi, creating jobs and actually increasing the tax base through the hundreds of workers they employ.
Yet when this same principle is applied to other ideas that are viewed as "liberal ideas," the same logic is not applied. The best, most recent example was the legislature's decision to cut funding for the state' drug courts. Drug court supporters have argued unsuccessfully that the cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish. By "saving" $3.3 million in drug court funding, the state will dramatically increase the amount of money spent on prisons. Last year, the state saved an estimated $38 million in prison costs through the drug court program, which cost the state about $7 million to operate. So, in the end, the "savings" will lead to far greater expenditures.
Of course, the most polarizing example of how our leaders see only the aspects of a program they want to see is Medicaid expansion and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which our leaders absolutely despise. Their answer is simple and goes largely unchallenged by their conservative base: "We can't afford it."
It's a dubious claim, one that considers only the costs while refusing to acknowledge the long-term benefits. If the same reasoning that has been applied to corporate tax breaks was applied to Medicaid and the health care act, the results would prove dramatically different.
To make sure that Mississippians stay in line with their myopic view on health care, our leaders make threats. Most often, the threat is "if we expand Medicaid, we'll have to make some cuts to education."
We have learned that cutting education is not an idle threat. Our state government has shown that it has no reservations about cutting education funding. Aside from the laughable and much bailly-hooed "improvements" made by the legislature in its last session -- a few million dollars to start a program making sure third-graders read at a third-grade level and a law that allows the creation of a handful of charter schools -- the one consistent approach to education is to cut it.
Since establishing the Mississippi Adequate Education Program in 1997, the legislature has met its obligation to fully fund schools just once.
Again this year, Mississippi's eight public universities will raise tuition. Mississippi State's tuition will jump the most, an 8.1 percent increase.
Since 2004, tuition has skyrocketed by 57 percent, mainly because the state has not kept its commitment to education. Those costs are passed on to students and parents.
Our state leaders talk a lot about the importance of education. They say an educated population is essential to the state's future.
Virtually every ill that afflicts our state -- poverty, unemployment, poor health, crime -- are a direct reflection of the state's unwillingness to invest in education.
Our politicians love to talk about how state government should operate by the same principles that apply to a family.
"You can't spend more than you bring in," they tell us.
But that attitude is short-sighted. There are an awful lot of families who don't have the $40,000 it takes to send a child to college. If the family operated like our politicians suggest, that child simply wouldn't go to college.
But that is not what families do, mainly because they recognize the ultimate benefit outweighs the initial cost. So they borrow money to fund the child's college education.
So let's take our politicians at their word and run the state like a family runs its household.
Let's fund education, not because we can't afford it, but because we can't afford not to fund it. Beg, borrow, steal. Raise taxes. Cut prison funding (by increasing funds for drug courts, for example). Do what is necessary.
When open schools are more of a priority than open carry, we'll know our leaders have gotten the message. To date, they have not.