Wednesday, June 7, 2017
The special session on Monday presented lawmakers the chance to potentially clean up some unfinished business from the 2017 legislative session as well as messes by particular members (looking at you, Rep. Karl Oliver).
Lawmakers failed on both fronts. First, they were forced to address additional legislation Gov. Phil Bryant requested to "fortify" the state's financial status among credit-rating agencies. Democrats weren't easily fooled, and Mississippians shouldn't be, either. The FORTIFY Act is a charade full of little fixes to make Mississippi's economic status look more intact than it is. Increasing the state's rainy-day fund cap to 10 percent looks good, but the reality is the governor had to dip into the fund more than once in the past fiscal year to shore up budget holes, leaving it below the statutory requirement of 7.5 percent of the state's general-fund appropriations. The FORTIFY Act is cosmetic, but neglects to address the real cause of Mississippi's financial woes.
Republicans have cut taxes in the name of trickle-down economics, small government and economic development for the past six years, and now Mississippians are beginning to see the reality of that policy: lost jobs and services. From the Departments of Health and Mental Health to the Forestry Commission, Mississippians who work in government are losing jobs and access to services. Meanwhile, state revenue has dwindled because that "economic development" hasn't brought more tax collections. Just a year ago, lawmakers passed another massive tax cut, cleverly titled the "Taxpayer Pay Raise Act," that will start its destruction on the state's coffers in July.
Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, told the House Monday that they should hang in there for a couple years, and the state will start to see the benefits of the cuts. But, how deep will the cuts go before we can't stop the bleeding? How many Mississippians will lose jobs, or not go to college or be able to retire because a few corporations needed a better incentive? Instead of passing the governor's FORTIFY Act, lawmakers could have stalled the massive tax cut, at least until revenue collections stabilize—but in a GOP supermajority, that was not an option.
Not to mention, not one Republican lawmaker called on Karl Oliver to resign Monday, after his infamous lynching Facebook post made national headlines, further solidifying Mississippi as stuck in a brutal past. Oliver sat in the House chamber, unbothered, it seemed, with enough members voting down a motion to suspend the rules that resolution to expel him couldn't a vote. In almost any other state, Oliver would likely be expelled, or at least pressured to address his House members publicly. But not in Mississippi.
If leaders are serious about the state getting off the bottom, they must own up to their actions past and present as well as strive to make real change going forward. The special session was the perfect chance for lawmakers to do this—but they passed.