The City of Jackson is truly in crisis – for more reasons than just water – and the national media has started to take notice

The Mississippi National Guard has been ordered to assist in water delivery.  Nonprofit groups have stepped up to help residents in their time of need.  Sympathy abounds for the thousands of residents impacted.

It is true that tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars are needed to repair and replace the Capital City’s failing infrastructure, funds that are not immediately available from any source.  The fact remains that the City of Jackson’s problems are the City of Jackson’s problems, and the state via the Legislature should not do anymore for it, outside the Capitol complex area, than it would do for any other municipality in Mississippi.

Every single municipality in Mississippi has some degree of faulty water and sewer infrastructure, and more than a handful are in as bad of shape as Jackson, if not worse.  These problems did not arise overnight.  Sixty or seventy years of deferred maintenance and neglectful improvement will not be resolved in weeks, months or years – even if the state throws a few million dollars Jackson’s way. 

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has approached Governor Tate Reeves and Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann with a request for over $40 million in emergency funds to help deal with Jackson’s water crisis.  There are already political attacks back and forth over the ask. 

The vast majority of state media, predictably, has taken the city’s side, painting statewide leaders who are rightfully not excited about spending millions for a municipal water system that is unbelievably mismanaged as uncaring.  Clear heads should question the wisdom in such a venture given the tough odds for future success in restoring even a small degree of public confidence in both the collection of fees and prioritization of financial resources coming out of the Jackson Mayor’s Office and the City Council chambers. 

It was just over a year ago in mid-2019 that 1 in 5 Jackson water customers were not even receiving a bill.

Let’s juxtapose the current situation against the conflict between the City of Jackson and the state over the Jackson International Airport.  The Legislature created a framework to regionalize the airport authority after concerns that the airport was underperforming.  The City of Jackson leaders basically said, “How dare you?”  City leaders jumped on their soapbox over the state’s “intrusion” on the airport, depicting it as patrician and overbearing, even though there were legitimate concerns over its governance.

Now, what if statewide leaders had suggested on their own that the City of Jackson’s water crisis was intractable and that they were “taking over” the city’s water system for its own sake.  You could imagine the howls and gnashing of teeth from both Jackson leaders and the media as it would be taken as an invasion of Jackson’s sovereignty. 

But the City of Jackson is now asking for all of the bailout money with none of the strings, in a similar vein as Democrat run states want the federal government to bail them out for their mismanagement of their economies before and during the pandemic.

The point is that this is a no-win game for Mississippi statewide and legislative leaders.  Deny help and you will be painted as cruel by metro leaders and the media.  If state leaders do something on reasonable terms, it will be seen as being too constrictive.  Even still, just handing over the money into Jackson’s failing system and that is not doing your duty on behalf of Mississippi taxpayers as a whole.

While Jacksonians should expect the same level of service as citizens of other performing municipalities, the harsh reality is that the leaders in the Capital City are going to have to make some really tough choices.  Drastic measures should be taken to right the ship and reprioritize local funding.  Everyone, regardless of income or status, is going to have to pay for water.  Full stop.  The city will have to budget for what it delivers and collect every cent. 

That is what is expected of every other municipality when these epic crises occur.  Why is it too much to ask of Jackson?

Make no mistake – Jackson leaders have not held up their part of the public bargain in delivering the most basic of services to its citizens.  It is reasonable that taxpayers around the state are not enthused about Jackson asking for a bailout, especially when the accounting and collection of running its own utility system remains in shambles.

The City of Jackson has an election coming up.  Maybe it is time for citizens to get serious about practical governance that tackles these big issues head on and prioritize putting in place local elected leaders who will make the tough choices and do the right thing for not only Jackson taxpayers but for the betterment of Mississippi.