Time to Ridicule Legislative Leaders?

Good leaders plan ahead.

You find versions of this truism in most leadership bestsellers. In particular, Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” says “begin with the end in mind;” Legendary coach John Wooden’s “Wooden on Leadership” says “You must be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way;” and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” says, “Now, the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.”

Even the Bible says so. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'” (Luke 14:28-30).

In this context, a comment last month by Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn is intriguing.

“I’m for showing leadership, and for solving a problem,” Gunn told a forum sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government. The Speaker was talking about his proposal to swap a decrease in state income taxes for an increase in state fuel taxes to fund much needed road and bridge improvements.

Unfortunately, the Speaker’s proposal is days late and many dollars short.

The time for a tax swap was three years ago when Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves pushed through his $415 million “Taxpayer Raise Act of 2015,” the largest tax cut in Mississippi history. With Reeves’ cut now phasing in, there is insufficient cushion in state revenues to afford Gunn’s proposed reduction in income taxes.

Talk about not planning ahead, a year after Reeves’ plan was adopted, Reeves and Gunn brought in an expert from the Tax Foundation to analyze how to offset revenue losses anticipated from Reeves’ cut.

The foundation’s Nicole Kaeding made a number of recommendations to offset losses, including, “broadening the tax base by applying sales tax to more items, including legal, accounting, fitness, barber or veterinary services throughout the state.” She also recommended indexing tax brackets to inflation. These recommended offsets were not adopted.

Understand, Reeves and Gunn have known for years that tax revenues to pay for road and bridge repairs must be increased. The Mississippi Economic Council highlighted this need when it released a comprehensive study by its Transportation Infrastructure Task Force in December 2014.

Good leaders would have kept this end in mind when considering tax legislation. They would have made these calculations before starting their tax battles. And, Reeves, who was so insistent on passing massive tax cuts during an election year, would have worked to find the best way, not in having his own way.

Instead, unable to finish the needed financial foundation for transportation infrastructure, they leave us with this kind of yaya leadership:

“I am a conservative. I am a Republican. I am not for raising anybody’s taxes. But I don’t stop there. I’m for showing leadership, and for solving a problem.” – Gunn.

“I am a Republican. I am a conservative. I am against raising gas taxes.” – Reeves.

Ridicule now warranted.


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