Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on a bill that could boost rural internet access:
The lack of access to affordable high-speed internet is one of the greatest challenges facing rural America today. As society becomes increasingly wired, the impact of not having robust online service becomes more acute.
No longer is it merely about entertainment or social communication. Barriers to high-speed internet limit access to educational resources, employment opportunities, business technologies, telehealth services, job training courses and so many benefits that have become vitally important in today’s world. The issue puts rural communities at a significant competitive disadvantage in terms of attracting both businesses and residents.
In a predominantly rural state like Mississippi, the topic takes on added significance.
Yet, while most would agree that it’s important to expand rural broadband, the question becomes how to do so and at what cost.
That’s what makes it meaningful to find private models elsewhere that have proven successful. And you don’t have to look far beyond Northeast Mississippi to find one that has gained national recognition.
The Tombigbee Electric Cooperative in Hamilton, Alabama, is providing high-speed internet and HD phone services to its customers, utilizing the infrastructure it has in place to reach its rural members. It’s a model that could have a big impact here with one catch — state law currently restricts Mississippi’s electric power associations to providing only electricity.
That’s why Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is leading a push to change that 1942 law.
The Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act would allow EPAs to own, build, maintain and operate a broadband system as part of their electric delivery system, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Dennis Seid. It would not require EPAs to provide such service, but would give them the option. It also would not spend any public funds.
The bill appears to have broad bipartisan support among Mississippi lawmakers, who open a new legislative session Tuesday. Supporters also include the state chapter of AARP, the Mississippi Farm Bureau, the Mississippi Association of Realtors, 41 counties and 62 cities.
We think it is a common sense solution to an important challenge, and we urge lawmakers to act quickly to pass it.
The bill will not immediately solve Mississippi’s need for rural internet. Installing broadband will be expensive, and many electric associations will not opt to do so.
In Alabama, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative has spent $45 million in offering the service, but it has done so in phases over a number of years. TEC was also aided by private investment and state and federal grants.
If such a model has worked in Alabama, Mississippi should be allowed to try it.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on a potential gas tax increase:
Gas prices below $2 a gallon give Mississippi legislators cover to do something they’ve been dragging their feet on for almost a decade: Raising the state’s gas tax to a level that will sustain the state’s highways and bridges.
A 10-cent or 15-cent hike is more palatable when prices are low, and after about a week of the initial shock of prices jumping, everyone will forget about the increase and move on with their lives.
However, not much has come out of Jackson so far about a potential gas tax increase during the annual three-month session that begins Tuesday. The old wisdom is that the Legislature is loathe to do much controversial in an election year. Yet history shows that same body last raised the gas tax in 1987, which was an election year just like 2019. There were just enough votes to overcome a veto, and it’s noteworthy that not one of the legislators who approved the gas tax increase lost 32 years ago.
The gas tax has not changed from that 18.4 cents per gallon since then, yet its purchasing power has greatly decreased because of inflation and improved mileage.
The patch that the Legislature did during its 2018 special session is simply not enough to fix the problem. That included infrastructure money from a lottery, once it gets started, and diverting 30 percent of the new internet sales tax to cities and counties for infrastructure.
Those stopgap measures, however, are nowhere near enough to maintain Mississippi’s existing highways, much less build new ones.
The gas tax is just about the fairest tax there is: The users of the roads are the ones who pay for it, even if they don’t live in Mississippi, and the money goes straight to roads without any political influence in the Legislature. Each of us relies on roads and bridges to live and work, and thus each should pay a fair share of keeping them up.
Because of the previous gas tax increase in 1987, Mississippi has a great system of four-lane highways. It would be foolish to let them disintegrate after investing so much in them, like a driver who tries to save money by not changing the oil in his new car.
Mississippi voters are not dumb. If they’ve done much driving recently out of state, they realize how inexpensive gasoline is here. One day this past week, in a drive between the Florida panhandle and Mississippi, there was a 50-cent-per-gallon difference between what the fuel could be purchased for here and what it could be purchased for there. A big reason for the difference, but not all, is the tax. Even if Mississippi doubled its fuel tax to match Florida’s, gasoline still would be about 15 percent cheaper in this state.
Mississippi voters also realize the need for investing in infrastructure and the fairness of the gas tax as a way to do that. Even Ronald Reagan, the hero of modern conservatism, championed a federal gas tax hike when he was president.
It’s time for our elected leaders to position our state to secure its investments and prepare for future growth.
If all of these arguments sound familiar, it’s because we’ve been making them for years now. Yet the problem has not been fixed, and our state’s roads continue to decline, which will make the eventual repair more expensive with every year that passes. It’s past time to act.
The Daily Journal on fire deaths in Mississippi and smoke alarms:
Sadly, fire deaths were up significantly across the state in 2018, according to data from the State Fire Marshal Office.
Mississippi saw 79 fire deaths in 2018. One of those deaths was here in Lincoln County. The State Fire Marshal Office investigated 74 of those, while local agencies investigated the other five deaths. That’s compared to 56 fire deaths statewide in 2017, with 53 of those investigated by SFMO.
The number of fire deaths in 2018 reflects a 36 percent increase over fire deaths during the previous year.
“As recently as 2006, the SFMO has investigated upwards of 100 fire deaths,” State Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Ricky Davis said. “In fact, in the last five years, we’ve significantly lowered the number of preventable fire deaths across the state. I can’t say specifically why the numbers are higher this year but, in a majority of these cases, a working smoke alarm could have saved lives.”
Out of the 74 fire deaths investigated by SFMO, there were 38 cases in which no smoke alarms were present. State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney said in 12 cases there were smoke alarms but they didn’t work.
“It’s upsetting because these fires were preventable and, in every one of these cases, a life could have been saved,” said Chaney. “The State Fire Marshal Office doesn’t just investigate after a fire has occurred. Our educators are out working in communities and schools every day.”
SFMO educators reached over 41,000 people in 2018 and visited more than 300 schools.
“Still, more people need to install and maintain smoke alarms and make escape plans specific to their home,” Chaney said. “One fire death is one too many.”
We encourage everyone to install smoke alarms and make sure they work properly. The simple devices can save lives, maybe your own.