House Leadership Playing Loose with Rights, Rules

Let’s see here.

When it comes to guns, the Mississippi Constitution is a fortress for sacred rights.  But, when it comes to reading bills, the Mississippi Constitution is a ridiculous antique.

Since our marvelous state constitution allows legislators to authorize carrying guns into churches, courthouses, sporting events, etc., the Mississippi House under the leadership of Speaker Philip Gunn is passing laws left and right to enable such.

Since our fossil of a constitution allows any legislator to require every bill to be read aloud before passage, the House under Gunn’s leadership has decimated this provision by putting in a machine that reads bills so fast no-one can understand a word.

So, we stand by our constitution, except when we don’t. And those in power decide which rights are important.

Perhaps this attitude can help explain the Speaker’s power play to ignore the rules that govern House proceedings. In addition to the constitutional provision allowing bills to be read, the House rules allow members the right to challenge rulings by the Speaker. Recently, the Speaker decided one of his rulings could not be challenged.

Longtime capitol reporter Bobby Harrison of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal took exception to this. “The bottom line is that in a deliberative, legislative body, adherence to the rules is paramount to ensure fairness,” he wrote. “The rules are, in a very real sense, the only protection the minority has.”

You see, the minority in the House, particularly black members, has been using the rules to protest what they see as unprincipled actions by the majority, particularly the Speaker. Gunn sees these actions as dilatory, so he has used his power to minimize their impact… no matter the rights provided by the constitution and the rules.

Speaking of playing loose with rights and rules, the House decided it needed to study up on whether members should be allowed to continue using campaign funds for unrelated personal expenses.

When the House proposal to study the issue got to the Senate, it got upended.

“It’s really common sense,” Senate Elections Chairwoman Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, told the Clarion-Ledger. “The question you ask yourself is, ‘Is this a campaign-related expense, or an expense related to holding office?’ If the answer is yes, you’re fine. If it’s no, then you shouldn’t do it.”

“We know politicians are living out of their campaign funds,” Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville said. “That’s not allowable. It’s basically legalized bribery.”

Senators voted unanimously to ban using campaign funds for unrelated personal expenses.

Perhaps House leaders were trying to prevent a sudden change in money flow for members whose lifestyles have come to depend on access to campaign funds. Whatever, the House will get another shot at this. Members can accept the Senate’s changes, go to conference, or let the bill die.

Given their tepid faithfulness to rights and rules, it won’t be surprising if House leaders just let this bill die.

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Conservative Tax Plan Needed for Road and Bridge Repairs

Yes, the Mississippi chapter of Americans for Prosperity is right that we don’t need excessive new taxes for road and bridge repairs.

So, yes, the Mississippi Senate was right to kill the eight percent sales tax hike on fuel proposed by Senate Transportation and Highways Committee Chairman Willie Simmons.

But, Americans for Prosperity is wrong that we don’t need any additional taxes for road and bridge repairs. We desperately do.

What Americans for Prosperity should be about is promoting conservative tax plans for essential government services like road and bridge repairs.

User taxes have long been the conservative way to fund government services. You use it, you use it up, you pay for repairs and new ones. It costs more, you pay more.

Mississippi uses fuel taxes as the user taxes to pay for roads and bridges. Since fuel taxes were increased in 1987, costs to fix roads and bridges have skyrocketed as thousands of miles of 4-lane highways and hundreds of bridges have been added.

It’s time for users to pay more. Choosing the right plan to pay more is the challenge.

Raising taxes when prices go up is not a conservative plan. That’s what a sales tax does. Eight percent sales tax today on $1.99 regular gasoline would up taxes 16 cents. But, when prices jump back up to $3.50, and they will, the tax would jump to 28 cents.

The most conservative plan would be a tax that works the opposite of a sales tax, one that goes down when fuel prices go up. Americans for Prosperity should push for tax innovations such as this, not oppose taxes for essential services.

Here’s how such a plan could work.

Since prices are down, add 20 cents per gallon to fuel taxes now. Next April 30 and each year thereafter, the Mississippi Department of Revenue looks at the average price of unleaded regular gas in Mississippi.  If the average price (including taxes) is below $2.75, the full added tax stays on for the next fiscal year (July 1 through June 30). If the average price is above $2.75 but below $3.50, the added tax drops to 15 cents for the next year. If it is above $3.50, the added tax drops to 10 cents for the next year. If gas prices come back down after going up, the tax would go back up.

Americans for Prosperity should couple a conservative tax plan with its demands to make the Department of Transportation more efficient. That’s good, conservative government at its best.

Having killed Simmons’ plan, the Senate failed to come up with any plan. Instead senators passed a bond and tax bill that simply brings forward existing road and bridge funding statutes with no changes.

Now that bill is in the House where, so far, Americans for Prosperity has been working to kill it.

To really be for prosperity, Americans for Prosperity should be fighting for a conservative plan, not trying to kill the bill.

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“Crazy” to Count on Tax Cuts to Generate Growth

Mississippi tax revenues are running short, so obviously it’s time for a big tax cut.

Huh?

Yeah, despite a projected $65 million revenue shortfall this year, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has pushed his massive $577 million tax cut proposal through the Mississippi Senate. Reeves argues his plan to phase out the corporate franchise tax, reduce individual and corporate income taxes, and give a tax break to small business owners will spur economic growth.

“We don’t need to grow the size of government; we need to grow the size of Mississippi’s economy,” Reeves told the Clarion-Ledger. “And we do that by allowing the taxpayers to keep their money to invest in their communities.”

Sounds nice, but evidence suggests such tax cuts don’t spur economic growth enough to make up for the tax cuts.

“The record is clear that tax cuts have not boosted growth,” says a Brookings Institute report, pointing particularly to tax cuts in Kansas and Louisiana.

In 2012, Kansas governor Sam Brownback argued tax cuts would be “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Brookings found the tax cuts did not produce hoped-for growth and more revenue was lost than originally anticipated. Fiscal year 2014 revenues were $700 million lower than FY 2013 — $330 million less than expected – during a period in which growth in most of the American economy accelerated.

Then there is the dismal fiscal situation in next door Louisiana. “Louisiana’s budget is a hot mess,” reported the Times-Picayune. Former governor Bobby Jindal pushed big tax cuts through the legislature when he took office. Bookings noted seven years later, the state budget had gone from a $1 billion budget surplus to a $1 billion shortfall. Universities and other state services face massive budget cuts. (Yes, part of the shortfall is from declining oil and gas revenues, but only part.)

USA Today even spoke out on the issue. “Big tax cuts come back to bite states,” the newspaper said. “The obsession with slashing taxes, budget be damned, is crazy.”

So, will the Mississippi House go along with the Senate’s “crazy” tax cuts?

Not if they listen to the conservative position of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson.

Frierson has proposed putting in each budget bill a provision that would require “a pro rata reduction in each agency to offset any tax cut,” reported Bobby Harrison of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “I am not anticipating any tax cuts…,” Frierson said. “This is just to keep everybody honest. If you vote for a tax cut, you vote to cut the budget. I am not going to bet on the come line anymore.”

“To be honest I don’t have a lot of confidence in growth.”

Well said.

Political promises notwithstanding, there are only two sensible times to cut taxes. One is when revenue is booming, not the case now. The other is when tax cuts will be more than offset by permanent spending cuts, also not the case now.

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America Struggling to Provide Moral Examples for Children

“For children to take morality seriously they must be in the presence of adults who take morality seriously. And with their own eyes they must see adults take morality seriously.”

Bill Bennett, the once and for many still the moral voice of conservative Republicans, wrote the above in the introduction to his wonderful compendium, The Book of Virtues, published in 1993.

And what examples of morality are our children seeing from conservative adults leading our state and nation today?

While conservative state leaders and legislators may talk morality, too many seem to practice a devil-may-care attitude toward morality. How else do you explain their long-time inability to notice the corruption surrounding our prison system, requiring the feds to step in? Or their unwillingness to stop misuse of their campaign funds for personal expenses?

At the same time, conservative leaders and legislators in Washington seem to thrive on division and demonization rather than moral leadership. So nothing gets accomplished, except moral degradation and distrust of our political system.

Then, there are our leading conservative presidential candidates whose penchant for name-calling, mudslinging and untruths is the antithesis of morality.

More from Bennett: “The vast majority of Americans share a respect for certain fundamental traits of character: honesty, compassion, courage, and perseverance. These are virtues. But because children are not born with this knowledge, they need to learn what these virtues are.”

So, exactly what virtues are our children learning these days from our conservative state and national leaders?

Hmmm.

For example, do our children know… do you know… the virtues embedded in the Great Seal of the United States that represent “the beliefs and values that the Founding Fathers attached to the new nation and wished to pass on to their descendants?”

From the Continental Congress explanation: “White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the colour of the Chief, signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice… The pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: The Eye over it & the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause… The Escutcheon is born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters [figures represented as holding up the shield] to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own Virtue.”

Hmmm.

If not our conservative leaders, what institutions can we depend upon today to teach our children virtues and morality?

Thomas Jefferson said this was the responsibility of our public schools. But, many fail in this duty.

So, we rely on our churches. But, many Americans are un-churched. According to the Gallup Poll, 46% of Americans are not members of a church or synagogue and only 36% of Americans attend services regularly.

As the Great Seal heralds with the motto ANNUIT COEPTIS above the Eye of Providence, we count on God’s favor of our undertakings. Will God continue to smile on a nation that shucks its commitment to morality?

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The SMORGS’ Gift to America – Donald Trump

The SMORGS are coming! The SMORGS are coming! Heaven help us all, the SMORGS are winning!

Well, they’re winning sort of.

SMORGS stands for “Sanctimonious Malicious Organizations.” You know what I’m talking about – well-funded, special-interest organizations that preach a good line but destroy any politician who won’t walk that line with them.

SMORGS have taken over politics, impacting both parties, but especially the Republican Party.

Years of efforts by SMORGS like the Heritage Foundation and its advocacy arm Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, Tea Party Express, and others have wreaked havoc in the Republican Party. SMORGS attacked and undermined GOP incumbents and party leaders who were “soft” on their issues. Their narrow-mindedness showed a preference for martyrs over winners and inaction over incremental gains. They used conspiracy theories and truth management techniques through conservative and social media to build huge constituencies of mistrusting “aginners.”

This was the year their efforts were to pay off. This was the year one they birthed and molded would win the GOP presidential nomination and clobber the Democratic nominee.

Oops.

Ted Cruz, rated “almost perfect” by Heritage Action for America, will not be the GOP nominee. Instead, the blustery super aginner, billionaire Donald Trump is the odds on nominee.

Cruz may be the spawn of the SMORGS, but Trump is the incarnation of their insurgence.

How ironic to see many of these SMORGS now attacking Trump hand in hand with the mainstream GOP establishment they deplore! How appropriate that this attack conspiracy will simply fuel the inner fire of the multitude of aginners these SMORGS have inspired!

For those who see the presidential campaign as the ultimate American reality show, this is great stuff. It is raw politics at its best.

For those who see the presidential campaign as a catastrophe, this is terrible. Bless their hearts.

There are huge groups in and out of both parties that are fed up with the status quo. They want radical change and don’t trust insiders. It here is that the SMORGS have won. They played the mistrust card to the hilt and it worked, making a Trump candidacy both possible and viable.

For those who still see America as a moral beacon and believe in the golden rule, it’s time to wake up. SMORGS are in, harmony is out. Their gift, Trump, has turned the golden rule to brass – “undo others before they undo you.”

The good news, if there is any, is that unto everything there is a season. The pendulum has swung far out. It will swing back toward the center at some point. New York Times sage Thomas Friedman has this hope, “If Trump uses (his politics) to open the way for a new, mature hybrid center-right version, he will have done the Lord’s work.”

Let us hope that through it all, as our founding fathers’ envisioned (Annuit Coeptis), God will favor our nation.

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Are Mississippi Politicians Bought and Paid For?

Politicians are bought and paid for, according to Donald Trump.

“When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” he said.

He was speaking about Washington politicians. But what about Mississippi politicians? Are they bought and paid for?

Probably not, but the less than squeaky clean behavior of some, and the lack of concern by most, sullies the image of all.

“Using public office for private gain,” a recent Clarion-Ledger exposé, charged that for state politicians “campaign funds have become personal expense accounts or a second income.”

The article cited instances where legislators used campaign funds to rent apartments, lease vehicles, buy tickets to sporting events, and purchase expensive items of clothing such as cowboy boots.

“The spending is largely paid for by lobbyists and special interests doing business with the state,” said the Clarion-Ledger. “They otherwise would not be allowed to lavish cash, gifts, or a second income on politicians.”

Using campaign funds for personal expenses unrelated to a campaign is against federal law. But state law is quiet on the issue, and looks to remain so.

A bill introduced by Republican Rep. Henry Zuber of Ocean Springs to prohibit using campaign funds for personal expenses quietly died in the House of Representatives.

This suggests most legislators are not concerned about politicians using campaign funds for personal expenditures.

The Clarion-Ledger cited two significant examples of what it called questionable spending:

“Attorney General Jim Hood has paid himself and two credit cards a total of $268,180 from his campaign account over nearly four years, with no details of the spending.”

State Auditor Stacey “Pickering has paid himself, his wife and credit cards more than $170,000 from his campaign account over nearly four years, most listed as travel reimbursement during off-years for election.”

The one area in all this that may – may – get action from lawmakers is how campaign account expenditures paid with credit cards get reported.

State law requires politicians to disclose each campaign fund expenditure that amounts to $200 or more.

Politicians have found a way to technically comply with the law, but not disclose anything. What they do is make purchases with credit cards, then disclose only their payments to the credit card company.

A bill introduced by Democratic Senator David Blount of Jackson to require credit card purchases to be itemized remains alive in the Senate. “Merely identifying aggregate payments to a credit card company or similar entity does not satisfy the requirements of this section,” reads the bill as amended in committee.

So, consider this. Former Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, an appointed official, faces prison time for taking bribes from businessmen that he used to enrich his lifestyle. Elected officials face no consequences when lobbyists and special interests pad their campaign accounts that they use to enrich their lifestyles.

Hmmm.

You can see why “bought and paid for” comments like Trump’s resonate with the public.

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Kasich Last Hope for Candidate with Character and Competency

A useful presidential primary exercise can be had by applying fundamental concepts from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to the candidates.

Covey developed his character and competency oriented leadership treatise after his doctoral dissertation critiqued 200 years of American “success literature” starting in 1776. Covey found that literature focused on the development of character through the 1920s. Afterwards, the literature started focusing on personality.

Covey believed character was far more important to effective leadership than personality. “The tip of the iceberg (personality) is what people first see,” he wrote. “Although image, techniques, and skills can influence your outward success, the weight of real effectiveness lies in good character.”

“To be truly effective in any area, a person must have a balance of high character and high competence,” Covey continued. “Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record.”

You can see these concepts vividly in the presidential primaries.

On the Democratic side, Hilary Clinton stresses her competency, but struggles to convince voters of her character. Bernie Sanders struggles with competency (particularly the commander-in-chief readiness question) while attracting more and more voters who believe in his character. Neither pass the high character balanced with high competency test.

On the Republican side, personality trumps both character and competency among the top candidates – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio.

Trump built his fortune and brand on personality and has shown little concern for the basic tenets of character. He has no record of competency in government, though he has shown competence in the private sector.

Cruz and Rubio used their personalities to build national images – Cruz as a crusader for conservative values, Rubio as an up and comer in the party. But given the chance to become effective leaders exhibiting character and competency as first term Senators, they stumbled. Most notably, Rubio helped craft the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration proposal, but wilted in the face of political heat, showing a lack of courage and Cruz’s over-the-top attempts to lead ended badly, with his sore loser tirades causing his Republican colleagues to treat him as a pariah.

As for the readiness to be commander-in-chief question, all three can only answer with bombast and rhetoric.

Indeed, Republican voters have spurned nearly every candidate with high competency in government. Jeb Bush has now joined other successful governors Rick Perry, Scott Walker, George Pataki, and Mike Huckabee and veteran Senator Lindsey Graham on the sidelines. Only Ohio Governor John Kasich still has some traction, based on his New Hampshire finish.

Unless Kasich or Ben Carson can somehow move up, Republican voters will have closed the door on candidates with high character too.

Quixotically, if Republicans want a nominee who can run on more than personality, Trump’s business success may make him the man.

This Covey exercise suggests there will be no candidate with a balance of high competency and high character this November, unless Kasich can somehow emerge.

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