May the joy and hope of Christmas linger with you through the New Year. Indeed, when things go awry during the coming year, it is the promise of Christmas that can see us through.
Let us hope that our state and legislative leaders will keep the promises of government to see us through the next year.
I left my writing job at Ole Miss 41 years ago this week to become an active “good government” Republican as the first worker in Gil Carmichael’s 1975 race for governor. My thought was that “good leaders” were visionaries able to take on tough, sometimes unpopular, challenges to make government keep its promises in a more efficient and effective manner.
What are the promises of our state government?
Public safety, safe and adequate public schools, safe and functioning public infrastructure (roads, bridges, levees, etc.), and rational regulations are high on the list. We face challenges in all these areas, but I’ll focus on three.
Well operated and secure prisons are a key part of our public safety operations. Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher is a determined, visionary public safety officer trying to overcome scandals and lawsuits to make our prison system efficient and effective. He has made it clear that a better trained, better paid prison workforce is absolutely essential to improving prison operations. The Legislature gave him the means to realign his workforce, but not to provide a “livable wage” to the qualified workers he needs to hire and retain. A 47% turnover rate and 21% vacancy rate should be all the evidence needed for good leaders to support his efforts.
Safe roads and bridges are not only important for our driving pleasure but also for economic development, whether it be tourism or industrial recruitment and retention. Ample evidence has been accumulated over the past decade and presented to state leaders that our roads and bridges are deteriorating faster than our Department of Transportation can fix them. The issue is one of resources. The department cannot spend money on maintenance that it doesn’t have. The business-led Mississippi Economic Council has recommended a solution to this crisis (yes it’s a crisis). But it will require good leaders willing to take the unpopular action of raising user-based fuel taxes.
State regulations aligned with federal regulations require Mississippi hospitals to serve everyone who shows up at their emergency rooms, whether they can pay or not. In Mississippi, the number who can pay little or nothing is considerable. Before Obamacare, the state was able to leverage federal funds to provide hospitals with significant reimbursements for this mandated uncompensated care. Now, those funds are drying up, putting more and more hospitals in financial distress. Government requiring free service and not paying for it is not rational, nor is it good government. Good leaders would find a way to fix this before we lose more hospitals.
Our New Year resolutions should include supporting good leaders willing to keep the promises of government.