October 8, 2019 10:54:05 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
One of the interesting things about watching candidates for statewide races is how they have to tiptoe around the issues that continue to face our state. From roads and bridges to education to the tenuous condition of our rural hospitals, every candidate who isn't Tate Reeves thinks we have serious problems.
All who aren't Tate Reeves have offered solutions.
But in the end, solutions require money -- lots of money. Money our state doesn't have.
This is what happens when you cut hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to win favor with voters, who never seem to understand the implications of those tax cuts aside from what they see in their paychecks.
Three years ago, Tate Reeves pushed through what he continues to tout as the biggest tax cut in Mississippi history. What he neglects to mention that it was also the biggest corporate tax cut in state history. The truth is that the average Mississippian has seen little benefit and much cost from those tax cuts.
Money that could have gone -- no, should have gone -- to maintaining our state road/bridge infrastructure, funding our public schools and universities and addressing our crumbling mental health and foster care program, instead went to fatten the bottom line for a select group of influential corporations.
Every candidate who is offering a legitimate plan to address these issues, knows that in one form or another, it's going to take tax dollars to achieve it. There is no Santa Claus for state government, folks.
Monday, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann visited The Dispatch. Hosemann, a Republican, is running for Lt. Governor and will meet Democrat Jay Hughes in the November election.
Asked if there is sufficient money to fund needed road/bridge infrastructure, Hosemann didn't beat around the bush.
"No," he said.
Tick off the issues, ask the same question and you get the same response.
There are two choices. Raise taxes to fix these problems or refuse to raise taxes and watch these problems become worse.
That's the whole problem: Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
Any candidate who is candid about the absolute necessity of raising taxes is in a dangerous place.
And any legislator who votes for a tax increase is essentially failing on his sword, especially among Republicans, who have control of both chambers of the Legislature.
So candidates are careful how they approach these issues.
Hosemann prefers putting the road/bridge question to people on the local level. He proposes legislation that would allow for a local option use tax on fuel, ranging 2-to-6-center per gallon, if approved by a county-wide vote.
His argument is that since the overwhelming majority of failing roads and bridges are county/city roads/bridges, the solution rests on the local level. Under his plan, each county would put together a transportation plan that would include what projects needed to be pursued, then ask voters in the county to support an increase in the fuel tax to cover the cost. The tax would sunset when those projects were completed.
On certain level, that makes sense.
But, it too, is problematic. Many of the biggest road/bridge failures are found in poor, rural counties. They would likely need bigger projects requiring bigger increases in the fuel tax. That's a tough spot to be in for a poor voter.
The plan does not take this into account.
The idea that the state should subsidize our poor counties is not popular (except in poor counties, that is), but it's the best way to make sure the needs of our poor, rural communities are taken care of.
After all, our state is propped up by federal dollars -- for every dollar we send to Washington, we get $3 back in aid.
Imagine the spot Mississippi would be in if our state did not receive those federal tax dollars.
No, imagine what poor counties like Noxubee or Clay or Winston would be like without significant state dollars.
Hosemann's plan, despite its merits, does not adequately address the larger, more consequential, problem.
We are tax-cutting ourselves into oblivion.
Everybody should know this by now.
But you won't hear in on the campaign trail.
Everybody wants to go to the heaven of good roads/bridges, education and healthcare.
But nobody wants to die by backing tax increases.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]