A New Year’s Resolution for State Government

Resolved:  State government will only provide the services our people need and only tax enough to cover costs for these needs.

Hmmm.

Many folks will unpack this resolution in different ways. Some will confuse “need” with “want.”  Others will severely limit the needs government should cover. Let’s shine a little light on this.

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives states tremendous power to meet the needs of their citizens.

The Mississippi Constitution says our state government exists “solely for the good of the whole” and emphasizes the importance of public “safety and happiness.”

So, our state government has the constitutional power and the constitutional purpose to provide services Mississippians need. Now “the whole” means all the people, not some of the people or just the people in power.

Balancing the needs of the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the Coast and the Hills, etc., for the benefit of the whole is the great challenge of state government. That’s why compromise – the seeking of balance – is the heart and soul of a democratic republic like ours.

As noted, public safety is a constitutional priority. So too are public schools. Our constitution mandates the state maintain free public schools (legislators think this means state and local government). There are no more important economic and social needs the Legislature will address than these two. Legislators seem to understand the public safety issue. They will debate the depth and breadth of school needs during the upcoming session. Let us hope the New Year will see school needs, dare I say it, adequately addressed, along with public safety.

Community colleges and universities have needs; their students have needs. But there is no constitutional requirement that the state address them, other than “happiness” and “the good of the whole.” One of our great hurdles in economic development is our low educational achievement level. We need more graduates and more of them to stay in Mississippi.

Transportation infrastructure is not a constitutional duty. But, our constitution clearly shows its importance by making eminent domain power available for “roads and bridges for public conveyance.” We have a growing road and bridge crisis.

Let us hope the New Year will see community college, university, and transportation needs appropriately addressed.

Healthcare, mental and physical, is not a constitutional duty. However, since 1862 our constitution has emphasized the importance of providing care for “those persons who, by reason of age, infirmity, or misfortune, may have claims upon the sympathy and aid of society.” Mississippi’s health ranking among the 50 states is dead last. Nursing homes, hospitals, community clinics, residency training, and more are regulated by and depend upon state government, especially Medicaid. A vast majority of states do much more than Mississippi to cover these needs. Let us hope the New Year will see us do better.

And, let us sustain the many “happiness” services government provides – hunting, fishing, gambling, museuming, librarying, politicking, retiring, and so on.

Happy New Year!

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