You’d sure as hell think that journalists in Mississippi get paid out of tax revenues for all of the hyperventilating going on as the first salvos of next year’s budget cycle get fired.
Right before the Thanksgiving break, Governor Phil Bryant issued his Executive Budget Recommendation. Then yesterday, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves alongside Speaker Philip Gunn released the Legislative Budget Committee’s recommendation that, not surprisingly, said that the Republican controlled legislature would continue to try and hold the line on governmental spending.
Imagine that – Republicans doing essentially what they said they were going to do – and the media is . . . shocked!
The “non partisan” Mississippi Today hit the budget scare button from a general piece by Adam Ganucheau that characterized outlooks for state agencies as “bleak”. Then Larrison Campbell did a piece on the Public Safety Crisis at the states crime labs that could apparently only be fixed with more money. While she does quote Tate Reeves who said that the Crime Lab is under the $89,000,000 appropriation to DPS and that it has the latitude to fund it’s internal priorities, the article is a gloom piece on the future of the Crime Lab and its funding resources.
Not to be outdone, Emily Pettus penned this jewel about a proposed tobacco tax increase laying hesitance of adopting taxes squarely at the feet of a Governor (a “former tobacco lobbyist” as she wistfully points out) whose been out of office for six years. However, the solution is to double taxes on tobacco and raise another $200 million per year for tax coffers. Easy breezy.
Next up, Bobby Harrison with the same article about not fully funding MAEP that’s been written 5,000 times before.
Geoff Pender had probably the most balanced piece on the budget changes.
And mind you all of this has been written in the last 48 hours.
The big takeaway is that the lion’s share of the $76 million in proposed cuts came from the elimination of 2,687 vacant state government positions that were open for six months or more. Just to do the quick math, let’s say that each of those government positions (with carrying costs, PERS and benefits) cost $30,000/year. That totals $80.6 million. So basically the “cuts” are ostensibly not funding things that are not even currently in use right now. State Government workers aren’t being laid off – they just may not be getting hired or replaced at the same rate.
For his part, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves said that he doesn’t define success of government based on how much it spends.
The net of all of this is that it seems the only measure that the media in Mississippi has to gauge the strength of the economy is tax revenues. While specifically looking at things like sales tax can be a pretty consistent barometer of consumer spending, overall general fund revenues are not the only way to determine economic health. Unemployment is historically low (4.4% in fact). Taxes are being lowered and government services are continuing. If tax revenues are not increasing then by design, in their minds, the economy is shrinking and there will be famine, pestilence and blood in the streets.
The one thing that continually amazes me is the short-mindedness of the elite analysts and journalists in the state’s media establishment. Where do you think our budget would be if the Obamacare Medicaid expansion three years ago had gone into effect and we were now toting several hundred million dollars more in Medicaid costs for over 200,000 new recipients? What do you think would be happening for tax revenues had Initiative 42 (that they were gaga over) had passed and some judge was mandating several hundred million dollars more in “adequate” education spending . . . just ‘cause? But in those moments, if Republicans don’t spend money on the hundreds of millions in priorities the media deem worthy, they’re monsters. If Republican hold the line and try to limit the growth of government prospectively, they’re heartlessly starving widows and children.
I generally think that the media in Mississippi for the most part in their minds try and get it right, although there are undoubtedly some that I’ve run across in my 14 years of doing this that don’t. However, since there is only really one school of thought, they literally don’t possess (or at least exercise) the capability to incorporate the other side of how to look at the same set of facts and arrive at a more nuanced conclusion. About the only run that true conservatives get is guest shots on op-ed pages like the one Russ Latino for AFP MS penned last week. Effective, but hardly balanced in terms of volume.
Truthfully, the same old refrain from Mississippi’s media is tired, and people do want a choice about how they get their news and information. That’s where sites like Y’all Politics have been able to fill in the gaps. But, it’s about to get under more intense focus as this legislative session rolls around, and the moaning and gnashing of teeth you’ve heard so far in the media won’t hold a candle to what you’ll hear in March of 2018 when budget season begins in earnest and priorities really get whittled down.