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Mississippi editorial roundup

September 19, 2018

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Sept. 15

The Greenwood Commonwealth on criticism of the Legislature’s decision to create a state lottery:

Addressing a group of press members and involved citizens at a forum this past week in Jackson, 34-year state Sen. Hob Bryan delivered a persuasive evisceration of the Legislature’s most recent special session creating a lottery to help fund repairs to Mississippi’s crumbling roads and bridges.

The Democratic senator’s criticism mirrors the criticisms made less forcefully by a number of other legislators: The bill was presented as a fait accompli with almost no input from legislators and little time to debate the fundamentals. The total funding for roads and bridges is a fraction of what is needed to bring our maintenance budget in line with reality. By Bryan’s calculation, the total additional funding to the Mississippi Department of Transportation is $30 million a year, less than one-tenth the amount studies have shown is necessary.

Further, the new state lottery will be run by a private corporation whose board is appointed entirely by the governor. Bryan believes this will open the door for corruption.

In the senator’s own words: “It’s every bad idea imaginable squeezed into one special session. It’s like drinking from a fire hose. There are so many bad, unconscionable, long-term bad things going on, it’s hard to know where to start.

“The lottery was a bad idea when Ray Mabus proposed it. It’s a bad idea today. It’s simply not right to have the government run a numbers racket to swindle its citizens. It preys on not merely the poor, but it preys on the poor who are most susceptible to some sort of pie-in-the-sky scheme.

“The bill was introduced during the special session. It’s 132 pages. It was assigned to the Highways and Transportation Committee, no doubt because of that committee’s experience and expertise in the field of lotteries. (Editor’s note: That was meant sarcastically.) When the bill was approved, it had only been around for a few hours, and no one had the time to work through all of it.

“The bill sets up a corporation. I still can’t tell you what this thing is. There was no meaningful discussion, no meaningful debate about why it was necessary to set up this corporation. Why couldn’t this be handled in an office at the state tax commission? What do other states do? All I know is we had a 132-page bill and it went through the Highway Committee in a couple of hours. Some of us did the best we could to figure out what was going on.

“The bill sets up a corporation whose board of governors is appointed by the governor. They hire an executive director. The executive director can be vetoed by the governor. I don’t think it’s subject to many government controls at all.

“Our ethics laws apply to money that is appropriated by the government, but the lottery money is not appropriated. So you have this entity out here acting in the name of the state of Mississippi selling lottery tickets, and it gets the proceeds from the lottery tickets. It sends some of that money to the state. The money is not state funds until it gets put in the state treasury.

“The lottery corporation gets 15 percent to do with what it will. The lottery president can go hire folks. He can hire consultants. He can hire advisers. He can hire PR people. He can hire experts. He can hire all these people completely and totally outside all the restrictions that apply to public money. And the person doing all this hiring was appointed by five people who were appointed by the governor. ...

“Do you think when it comes time to do all this contracting, the people over there might remember who it is who appointed them? Even if Gov. Bryant is a saint, we shouldn’t pass laws on the assumption that nobody is going to succumb to temptation.”

Online: http://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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Sept. 16

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on attracting top teachers to Mississippi:

Mississippi needs creative strategies to attract teachers.

It’s no secret that top flight teachers are a major ingredient in the state’s recipe for future success.

The best path forward for a state that has been mired in cycles of generational poverty is a robust public education system. And the most impactful educational tool is a high-quality teacher.

So how does Mississippi get more top teachers?

Increasing salaries is certainly one element. Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both recently announced plans to elevate teacher pay next year, and we hope they follow through with a meaningful strategy.

But salaries are not the only strategy to employ.

Another tool is to find innovative ways to attract people into the field. That includes revising alternate route paths that allow professionals from other fields to quickly become certified to teach. It also includes building on programs like the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, a joint venture by the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University that creates an honors college-type experience for education majors with the highest academic credentials. By offering big scholarships and study abroad opportunities, the program restores prestige to the profession.

Communities can also restore prestige by implementing various incentives that make teachers feel valued.

That’s what is so special about Tupelo’s Teachers of Distinction program. For 20 years, the community has come together, raised money and held a ceremony to honor its best teachers. ...

Mississippi and its communities must continually seek similar models.

Online: http://www.djournal.com/

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Sept. 14

The Commercial Dispatch says Marijuana is better regulated than banned:

This month, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics busted a marijuana-growing operation in Jefferson Davis County. That itself is not uncommon. Marijuana plots are common throughout sparsely populated rural America and many are detected and destroyed and the growers brought to justice.

But it was the scale of this month’s bust that made it a conversation piece — seven separate fields covering 40 acres with a crop estimated as much as $70 million. Although details were scant as officials continue the investigation, there is some belief that this operation is the work of a cartel because of the sophistication of the operation.

For some, the specter of a drug cartel operating in Mississippi raised the need for tighter border security in the form of President Trump’s wall across the US/Mexico border.

Rather than debate the relevance of that claim or the effectiveness of such a wall, this incident raises another point worthy of consideration.

Imagine, if that marijuana operation was legal and the product taxed. Now, imagine if that were true throughout the nation. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that could reduce our existing tax burden or be spent on a wide variety of real needs, everything from infrastructure to health care to education.

Now, consider the cost of policing these illegal operations in terms of law enforcement resources.

Finally, consider the practical reality of marijuana use today and what we can glean from history when government was charged with the futile job of eliminating a product that a great part of the population insisted on using whether it was legal or not.

A Marist survey in 2017 showed that 35 million Americans smoke marijuana on a monthly basis. That’s a little less than 10 percent of the entire population. That same survey said 78 million (a fifth of all Americans) have smoked marijuana at least once and 55 million (1 in 6 Americans) have smoked marijuana during a calendar year.

As more and more states legalize and tax marijuana, it’s clear that the stigma of marijuana as a dangerous illegal drug has subsided and efforts to control operations are bordering on futility.

The old arguments for why marijuana should continue to be illegal just aren’t satisfying, especially as its benefits in pain management are gaining credence.

It is time to take an enlightened, practical and honest look at marijuana and recognize that it should be legal, regulated and taxed.

It is a lesson we should have learned from the Prohibition era, when Congress criminalized the production and distribution of alcohol. It achieved nothing other than to make multi-millionaires out of criminal organizations while endangering the thirsty public, which turned to illegal alcohol that was not held to any safety standards.

After 12 years, Congress saw the folly of Prohibition and alcohol returned to being a legal, regulated and taxed commodity.

Surely we have reached that point with marijuana.

If you want to prevent drug cartels from setting up shop in Mississippi, legalizing marijuana and using economic principles will be far more effective than to erecting a wall.

Online: http://www.cdispatch.com/index.asp

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