I’m Bobby Moak and I’m honored to represent southwest Mississippi in the House of Representatives and humbled to serve my colleagues as Leader of the House Democratic Caucus.
Days into this new session, the previous administration unveiled a nightmare for victims of violent crime across Mississippi. Without listening to families of murder victims and other Mississippians, Governor Barbour released convicted murderers onto our streets and cleared the way for sex offenders to move into our neighborhoods without notice.
While this act has brought us face to face with some of our worst fears, it has also given us an opportunity to think critically about the way we work with victims and their families to ensure justice and create a safer Mississippi.
This issue has been a priority for Democrats in the legislature. For the past three years, we have offered legislation that would require governors to listen to victims’ families, law enforcement and prosecutors before issuing a pardon. We are happy to welcome our Republican colleagues into this conversation, and welcome their help to pass legislation that will respect the work of our judicial system and protect Mississippians.
Likewise, we have asked our Republican colleagues to join us in supporting local law enforcement on the issue of illegal immigration. The Republican version of such reform places burdens on cities, counties and local taxpayers. We cannot allow local entities to bear the brunt of new immigration measures when the problem is caused by companies that hire undocumented workers. If there is to be immigration reform, we should make sure those who create the problem are accountable.
Additionally, Republicans need to join the Attorney General in protecting Mississippi from corporations that steal from us. Currently, Republican legislation would make it practically impossible for the Attorney General to go after corporations that steal our taxpayers’ money. This legislation is the exact opposite of what Mississippians want, which is for wrongdoers to be held accountable.
We must also join together to find ways to eliminate the spoils system in Mississippi government. Elections do matter and elected leaders should be given the tools they need to lead but the hiring of campaign workers to perform governmental functions has become too common in Mississippi. When campaign staffers infiltrate every corner of the capitol, it creates an environment of perpetual campaigning and institutionalizes gridlock. Mississippi taxpayers should not be made to subsidize political activity through high salaried created positions.
This past fall, Mississippians joined the rest of the country in calling for a fuller measure of accountability in their government. I can assure you that Democrats in the legislature heard that call. That is why this year we are identifying areas of tax reductions and good government reforms throughout state government.
One of the simplest ways to control spending is to shorten the session. At the beginning of the year, Democrats called for a thirty day reduction to the session as did Governor Bryant four years ago. We are yet to receive a response from Republican leadership on this request and so we renew our call for a simple measure that would save taxpayers over eight-hundred thousand dollars this year.
But good government is not simply a matter of controlling special interests and limiting political hires, it must also extend to the budgeting process. A sluggish economy and a loss of stimulus funds will make this an especially challenging process. But no matter the circumstances, budgeting must ultimately be about our values and prioritizing spending.
That is why we will work with our colleagues to lift our children out of even the lowest performing school districts to prepare them not only for attending class but getting degrees from colleges and universities. We can build academic acumen and self esteem to provide our children with resumes that make them competitive on any level and enrich not only themselves and their families but our state. We believe in our K-12 programs, community colleges and universities and this is why Democrats in the legislature will not turn our backs on our public schools.
But budgeting must also mean remaining faithful in the small things—those line items don’t grab news headlines. Republicans have recommended a 24% cut to our wildlife budget. This will be an area of disagreement.
Even in a tough economy, wildlife-related recreation is producing jobs for thousands of Mississippians. According to Mississippi State University, outdoor activities create more than 66,000 full and part-time jobs that pay more than $1.15 billion in wages and salaries per year. This study also showed that wildlife recreation contributes $2.8 billion to our state economy each year.
Every dime taken from wildlife budgets will have to be made up in fees on sportsmen. A gun and rod-n-reel tax along with reducing the number of wildlife-related jobs is bad policy.
The same goes for the sizeable cut being proposed to our Department of Marine Resources, the state agency that works hand in hand with our fishermen, shrimpers and sports anglers. These activities are responsible for a total economic impact of more than $750 million each year.
When a state makes budget reductions of this kind, those reductions are passed along to end users, in this case, our sportsmen. Instead of slashing our wildlife or marine resources budget, we need to look for ways to provide more tax incentives for our hunters and anglers so they keep choosing Mississippi.
We also must stop grandstanding about budget cuts and tax reductions in the legislature when we know that these taxes are simply being kicked down to the local level. In his speech to open this legislative session, Governor Barbour acknowledged that some of our taxation methods need to be reevaluated. We agree.
Mississippi taxpayers have been saddled with a lot of taxes passed on to our local communities. There are taxes instituted for programs that should have been completed years ago. And that’s just one example among many of taxes that we need to re-think.
If we are going to get serious about budgeting and taxes, we have to look critically at all our practices. We can’t allow a tax at the local level that would never pass at the state level. We must also look at whether large multi-national corporations are paying their fair share of Mississippi taxes.
Our shared economic difficulties have been well documented. Unemployment has afflicted every county in our state and the challenges of underemployment have left their mark on most every Mississippi family. We cannot afford to answer these challenges with cynicism and political infighting.
Democrats take the lessons of November seriously and we stand ready to work alongside our Republican colleagues for real solutions
May God continue to bless us.