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It’s budget time again for the Mississippi Legislature.
More money is needed to fund schools, community colleges, universities, highways, Medicaid, Corrections, public safety, mental health, and so on.
Oh, and a tax cut too.
Revenue growth can cover part, but not all. So, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee will, once again, painstakingly pick winners and losers from the vast array of agencies that make up state government.
Some will get more, some the same, and a few less. But none is likely to be zeroed out.
Unsuccessful businesses get closed every day. Banks regularly merge and/or shut down unproductive operations. But not government. That’s because government behaves more like kudzu than business. Despite attempts to prune here and there, it just grows and grows.
Experts say long-term control of kudzu requires a process to kill or remove the kudzu “root crown” and all “rooting runners.”
That’s the Legislature’s dilemma. Every agency has a “root crown,” a powerful legislator, state official, or business group. All have “rooting runners.” Take on a university and you take on the alumni; take on the Cooperative Extension Service and you take on the county agents and their friendly farmers, foresters, tomato growers, and quilters; take on Medicaid and you take on poor folks, nursing homes, children of nursing home clients, and the medical community; take on tax breaks and incentives and you take on economic developers and local officials; take on schools and you take on parents, teachers, and their formidable allies.
Taking on agency root crowns and rooting runners is too dicey for most politicians.
In 1933 the Brookings Institution studied Mississippi, then, recommended it have 12 agencies. A study by Highsaw and Mullican in 1950, The Growth of State Administration in Mississippi, recommended 17 agencies. A group of business CEOs in 1971 recommended 32 agencies. Other studies have recommended closing or merging universities, school back shops, and so on to no avail.
In 1817 the state started with eight administrative agencies. By 1932 there were 80. Today, more than 140.
Removing kudzu root crowns and rooting runners requires endless discipline, aggressive controls, and multiple applications. Reducing the size and cost of government will take the same.
History shows governors have attempted to provide more budget discipline than legislators. But, in 1955 the Legislature took over the newly formed Commission on Budget and Accounting chaired by the governor. And in 1984, due to the Allain lawsuit, they ousted the governor completely, creating the legislator-only Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
“Performance-based budgeting” is the lingo government leaders use today to describe how they intend to control spending. But it’s the same ol’ same ol’… picking winners and losers, but eliminating nothing.
Where, oh where, are the real champions of smaller government?
Are you ready to rumble?
In one corner stand Governor Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and their allies who want to cut taxes.
In the other corner stand the champions for fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) for K-12 schools.
The conventional wisdom is the state budget cannot accommodate both, so all are preparing for a big fight.
Looming behind the MAEP corner are two very different initiatives. Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove has filed suit to force the Legislature to fully fund MAEP and pay for past shortfalls (minus substantial lawyer fees, of course). A new group called Better Schools, Better Jobs wants to pass a constitutional amendment to force the Legislature to fully fund MAEP in the future.
Bryant and Reeves oppose Musgrove’s approach and question the constitutional amendment initiative.
Reeves explained, “If this initiative becomes law, it changes the responsibility from elected persons in the House and Senate and gives that responsibility to one judge in Hinds County.” Speaking to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal editorial board he added, “I am not sure in the long term that is good public policy.”
How about a tax cut?
The Governor says he wants to give “significant tax relief to our citizens.” Reeves says, “We think it’s time for a pay raise for taxpayers.”
School funding proponents disagree. A Daily Journal editorial said, “If Mississippians’ overall tax burden were especially burdensome, there might be justification for a tax cut, but it’s not…. Shoring up vital state services in the wake of an improving revenue picture should be the Legislature’s goal in 2015.”
Potentially momentous, the rumble between MAEP and tax cuts could fizzle. That’s because few Republicans want to be seen opposing education and few Democrats want to be seen opposing tax cuts.
A typical political solution would be to do some of both, better school funding (below the full MAEP level) and a small tax cut (below what Bryant and Reeves may want). Legislative rules favor this approach. It takes a 60% vote to pass a tax cut and the Republican majority in the House is only 52% (versus 62% in the Senate).
But, TEA Party advocates, having heard the magic words “tax cut,” and MAEP proponents, with the push on for full funding, aren’t anxious to settle for a political solution. Remember, next year is election year, giving both side more leverage than usual.
Throw in the TEA Party’s ill-founded desire to scuttle Common Core, university and community college requests for lots more money, and the continued birthing of charter schools and odds increase for politically brutal skirmishes in the education and revenue arenas.
Hearings before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee starting this month should give the first glimpse of what is to come.
Organizations that regularly announce “national searches” to replace CEOs tend to have internal management problems. High performing organizations tend to promote from within.
Consider our universities. The IHL Board has long been the king of national searches, with mixed results. Community colleges, on the other hand, are noted for promotion from within, with generally good results.
The major factor that influences CEO hiring is the management approach of the board of directors/trustees. In high performing organizations, boards tend to focus on both long and short term objectives and continuity of leadership. In organizations experiencing CEO turnover, boards tend to be influenced by subjective issues and allow new CEOs to establish their own agendas.
As an IHL trustee I participated in many searches where the first question asked of some national search candidate was “What is your vision/plan for the university?” In other words, “tell us the agenda you will implement if we give you the reins?” Some of the national search prospects we and future boards hired did well, too many did not.
It’s extremely hard to make good hiring decisions in searches where your interaction with prospects is limited and your opportunity to gain understanding of their character and management style is restricted to a couple of interviews, input from the recruiter, and feedback from interest groups. It’s like judging a book by its cover.
That’s why boards of high performing organizations deliberately grow their own future leaders. They get to train, nurture, and observe performance over time. They get to instill the organization’s culture and objectives. They get a good look beneath the cover.
In recent times among our universities, only the University of Mississippi has successfully prepared future CEOs, e.g. Dr. Robert Khayat and his successor as Chancellor, Dr. Dan Jones. These selections occurred despite the IHL Board’s insistence that national searches be held. The IHL Board has spent millions on national searches, a practice with questionable benefits.
Now, it appears the IHL Board could be changing course. This follows the selection of two presidents from the IHL central office staff. First, Dr. Jim Borsig, who served as IHL Associate Commissioner for External Relations and Public Policy, was named president of Mississippi University for Women, but as part of a national search. More recently, Dr. Alfred Rankins, Jr., who served as IHL Deputy Commissioner for Academic and Student Affairs, was named president of Alcorn State University, but without a national search.
Still, as this is written a national search has begun to replace Dr. James Keeton as CEO of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He and his two predecessors were promoted from within and the center experienced a time of tremendous improvement and growth.
Boards should invest in growing future leaders, not expensive national searches.
Okay. The sayings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and even Ronald Reagan about civil society mean little to you.
So, hear the words of Jesus, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31) and “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:31).
Our schools used to teach this concept to children as the “golden rule.” It is the moral law, the rock, upon which civil society and, indeed, civilization are built.
It can be found in all major religions and enlightened philosophies:
“What is hateful to you do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law: all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”–Talmud, Shabbat.
“This is the sum of duty (Law): Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” –Mahabharata 5:1517.
“Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” –Analects 15:23.
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” –Udana-Varga 5:18.
“We should behave to our friends as we would have our friends behave to us.” –Nicomachaen Ethics.
“Do ye enjoin Right Conduct on the people and forget (to practice it) yourselves. And yet you study the scripture? (Law). Will ye not understand?” –Al-Qur’an 2:44.
“No one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” –Second Treatise of Government.
“So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only.” –Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals.
These quotations span from 1250 BC to 1795 AD. They represent Judaism, Hinduism, Confucius, Buddhism, Aristotle, Islam, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant, in that order.
They are timeless, transcendent teachings all should hear and obey. They apply to each of us individually, to our families and associations, our businesses, and to our politics and government.
Yes, our politics.
Hateful messages spewed by the “aginers” in both parties are uncivil, irreligious, and immoral. To be clear, they are un-Christian and profane the golden rule.
They are also unpatriotic.
Even a novice student of our Constitution knows it represents mankind’s best effort, so far, to incorporate moral law into government.
Right after Jesus preached the golden rule to his disciples, he said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” –Matthew 7:34-36.
Hateful aginers build on sand. Wise patriots build on rock.
Civil society protects us from tyranny.
When Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the early 1800s, he marveled at our democratic and civil society. But, in his two volume commentary Democracy in America he wrote at length about the risks of tyranny in America. He believed America had more to fear about tyranny from within than from without, quoting from a prescient letter Thomas Jefferson sent to James Madison.
“The tyranny of the Legislature is really the danger most to be feared, and will continue to be so for many years to come. The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn, but at a more distant period.”
Tocqueville saw America’s resistance to tyranny arising from three things, “(1) the peculiar and accidental situation in which Providence has placed the Americans; (2) the law; (3) the manners and customs of the people (civil society).”
“The most fascinating aspect of Tocqueville’s model of civil society,” explained Peter Dobkin Hall, Professor of History and Theory at City University of New York, “is the way its various components fit together: (1) family and community life and the churches act to shape private moral and perceptual agendas and direct them towards the public sphere; (2) civil and commercial associations and the press act as vehicles for shaping and focusing public action outside the formal realms of politics and government; (3) political associations and parties in turn act as the bases for forming the electoral coalitions on which formal governmental action is based.”
Nearly 200 years ago, Tocqueville saw strong families, communities, churches, civic and business organizations and a free press giving direction to political agendas.
Now he would see heavily-financed, national and state political agendas intentionally dividing families, communities, churches, and civic and business associations and dominating media.
In the section of his book entitled Tyranny of the Majority, Tocqueville wrote, “Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent.”
As our political parties more ruthlessly pursue ideological purity, detesting compromise and reconciliation, the risks of legislative tyranny grow…that tyranny being able to force and enforce contentious laws and policies on the minority.
We see instances already. Legislative tyranny at the national level forced Obamacare on states. Legislative tyranny at the state level forced local governments to abandon reasonable open-carry public safety restrictions. (How ironic to see state leaders fight federal tyranny, then act tyrannically toward local government.)
Read George Washington’s admonition, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
Patriots must stand against tyranny of all kinds and ever renew family-, church-, and community-based civil society.
The foundation of civil society is education.
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,” said Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, our third President, and champion of public education.
Jefferson believed education of all citizens to be essential to both liberty and civil society. “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”
Jefferson knew uneducated children could become the bane of America. “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”
While Jefferson asserted the merits of public education, it was Horace Mann who led the fight to establish free public schools. In Public Education in the United States (1919), noted educator Ellwood Cubberley wrote, “he will always be regarded as perhaps the greatest of the ‘founders’ of our American system of free public schools. No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, and free.”
Jefferson’s vision was that schools would impart both knowledge and morality, core components of civil society. Mann agreed with Jefferson’s vision but worked hardest to establish the practice of a free education for all.
Ideally, both Jefferson’s vision and Mann’s practice would be the birthright of every American. Sadly, the practice has persisted while the vision has dimmed.
What evidence shall we focus on? Low educational achievement levels? High drop-out rates? Students who don’t know the words to the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem, much less what they stand for? Violence and immorality among school age students?
Or bad teachers, bad administrators, lack of resources, poor facilities, etc.?
We have allowed cruel administrators, wimpy parents, frenetic do-gooders, and foolish officials to destroy discipline in our schools. We have allowed zealots, educationists, and political correctness to confound and contaminate coursework in our schools. We have allowed regulation, taxation, transportation, dietetics, and athletics to dominate and obfuscate the obsolete organization of our schools.
Some say the fix is to pass a constitutional amendment to better fund the current system.
Others say the fix is to quit holding students hostage in bad school districts, allow teachers to incorporate discipline and work with learning, and authorize schools to offer early childhood education and extend school hours.
As Jefferson warned, our civil society depends on making the right choice.
Civil society requires civil leadership.
Just as Ronald Reagan defined civil society – order with virtue, he also was the epitome of civil leadership – strong but conciliatory, demanding but willing to compromise, conservative but willing to work across party lines.
Reagan said, “Our first President, George Washington, Father of our Country, shaper of the Constitution, and truly a wise man, believed that religion, morality, and brotherhood were the essential pillars of society.”
Reagan affirmed the prayer embodied in America the Beautiful – “America! America! God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!”
For him, brotherhood transcended politics, as demonstrated by his legendary relationship with Tip O’Neil, the Democrat Speaker of the House. O’Neill’s son Thomas described their relationship, their commitment to “find common ground” this way:
“What both men deplored more than the other’s political philosophy was stalemate, and a country that was so polarized by ideology and party politics that it could not move forward.”
“While neither man embraced the other’s worldview, each respected the other’s right to hold it. Each respected the other as a man.”
The late Congressman G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery also bought into the notion that brotherhood should transcend politics. His relationship with Republican President George H.W. Bush is also legendary.
“When it came to matters affecting our national security and matters of war and peace, we stood as one,” Bush wrote in the foreword to Sonny’s memoir The Veteran’s Champion.
The late Senator John C. Stennis may be the best 20th Century example of civil leadership. Stennis was respected for his character, steadfast faith in God, and love for people.
Reagan said of Stennis, “The humble man who came to Washington from a small town in Mississippi has made an impression on American government that is difficult to measure and hard to fully describe. He has demonstrated for all of us that one man, committed to God and country, willing to work hard and sacrifice personal gain and comfort, can make a difference.”
“He considered it a point of pride, not weakness, to be able to work across the aisle with presidents of the other party,” said Brother Rogers, associate director of the John C. Stennis Cener for Public Service.
“When we face difficult times, difficult issues,” Reagan said, “we Americans can unite for the common good.”
Montgomery and Stennis would agree, but today’s snarly politics would not.
As Thad Cochran’s race shows, national groups with big money are anxious to demean and ditch civil leaders willing to work across the aisle for the common good.
As civil leadership wanes in our national leaders, what does that foretell for state and local leadership? For our national fabric and civil society?
Patriots should stand up for brotherhood and civil leadership.