Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. Sept. 9, 2021.

Editorial: Response Chilly To Gunn’s Tax Swap

Philip Gunn is convinced that if Mississippi would swap its personal income tax for higher sales taxes on most things people in this state purchase, new residents would come streaming in.

The House speaker is having, however, a hard time convincing enough people of that to get his belief enacted.

When Gunn tried to rush his complicated and unstudied tax-swap proposal through the Legislature earlier this year, it got rejected in the Senate, a body equally dominated by Republicans.

The state’s business community also has its doubts. It doesn’t like some of the tradeoffs in Gunn’s proposal. For example, purchasers of groceries would see their sales tax cut in half, but those who buy their food already prepared would see the tax rise to 9.5% (even more in those cities, such as Greenwood, which tack on a local sales tax on restaurants to fund tourism efforts). Such a tax swap might be good for grocers, but not so good for restaurateurs.

Business leaders just don’t see eliminating Mississippi’s already modest personal income tax as a major priority. During legislative hearings last month, the head of the Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, told the House speaker that cutting or eliminating the personal income tax has not even registered as an issue in a series of meetings the MEC has been holding.

The MEC rightfully believes that people are settling elsewhere than Mississippi not because the taxes are too high but because the opportunities are too few. It wants legislators to focus on what might better reverse the state’s population losses, such as workforce development, education improvements, better infrastructure and more effective marketing of the state.

One might expect Gunn to be getting pushback from Democratic groups, which argue that consumption taxes are, contrary to Republican ideology, the least fair, since they hit hardest on those who can least afford to pay. But the speaker is also meeting resistance from what would normally be similarly minded conservatives.

That should tell him something: namely that if he plans to ride this issue to a possible run for governor in 2023, he may have picked the wrong horse to ride.

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Tupelo Daily Journal. Sept. 8, 2021.

Editorial: Use United Way ALICE report to invest in Mississippi’s working poor

The United Way recently released a shocking report looking at the number of Mississippi working families who are on the brink of financial ruin, barely able to afford normal living expenses despite working full-time jobs.

The report calls these families and individuals ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. They work hard, often at multiple jobs and do so more than the regular full-time 40-hour week. Nevertheless, they cannot afford the minimum they need for a comfortable quality of life.

And 31% of Mississippians fall into this category.

In fact, the United Way report found that, as of 2019, 50% of Mississippi’s 1.1 million households were struggling. The other 19% already live below the poverty line. The ALICE households are fighting to stay above it.

Equally troubling is how much the number of struggling Mississippians has grown. In 2007, the number of Mississippi households struggling stood at 39%. That is nearly a 30% growth in the number of struggling families since the Great Recession a year later, despite the United States enjoying the longest period of economic expansion on record over almost the exact same period thanks to millions of dollars in recovery aid.

The United Way report is a truly eye-opening piece of work, but the results should not be surprising. Mississippi is a largely rural state with several key indicators consistent with what economists, sociologists and political scientists all know lead to financial hardships for individuals and families.

Nevertheless, the report does help put a face on the working poor in Mississippi, and it helps quantify the number of working people who are fighting every day to not even make ends meet, but to keep the ends close enough that maybe one day they can meet.

So what will we do about it?

There is a part for everyone to play. Churches, community leaders, business leaders and individuals. There are numerous programs that exist to assist those who need help, and this report can help guide those who run these programs in being more targeted with their resources.

But, as the report says, public assistance is not enough. We need to address the underlying issues, and that’s where the Legislature comes in.

Mississippi is enjoying a strong economic surge thanks largely to federal pandemic recovery spending in the form of appropriations to states and direct payments to individuals who have spent that money and generated higher tax revenues.

Leaders should look at how that money can be used to help the working poor by easing financial burdens and providing a ladder to financial security.

One way is obvious: Expand access to health care for working families, something Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann strongly advocates.

But there are other areas that must be addressed: affordable and quality child care, safe and affordable housing, access to food and groceries, reliable transportation and infrastructure, reliable technology, and providing financial education and savings opportunities.

Perhaps lawmakers should start, however, by reading the report and asking the United Way to come to the table to help solve some of these issues. The statistics do not care about politics. They reflect real people. And that is what this is all about — helping the people of Mississippi.

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Vicksburg Post. Sept. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Thank you to local volunteers aiding in Hurricane Ida recovery

Hurricane Ida left utter devastation in its path, especially in South Louisiana, where it made landfall as a Category 4 storm.

Like many people who dodged the storm’s bullet, Vicksburg and Warren County residents have shown up and shown out to help our neighbors to the south as they begin to assess the damage and find some semblance of order in the wreckage.

From private citizens such as Army veteran Allen Pugh and Christen and Charles Toney, to the team of local firefighters who are taking shifts in Harvey, La., to the brave linemen who work around the clock to bring electricity back to the structures that are still standing, the showing of support is tremendous.

Whether it’s through collecting donations of much-needed goods or risking life and limb to keep others safe, we salute those who saw a need and have worked to meet it.

Hurricane recovery is a task that goes beyond when the mainstream news cycle stops coverage.

The physical and emotional wounds left by a storm like Ida will be evident for years to come. We mustn’t get complacent and comfortable, thinking, “It’s not on the news channel anymore, so those people are fine.”

There are displaced persons from Louisiana and the affected areas scattered throughout Vicksburg and Warren County. They’re making homes in our hotels, in apartments, with family members and friends.

When you see an out-of-towner from Louisiana, show a little extra kindness. You never know; they could be here because their home was inundated with floodwaters and they have nowhere to go.

They could have come to Vicksburg because we’re one of the few towns on the Louisiana border not experiencing gas shortages. Perhaps the only belongings they have left are the ones they took with them when evacuating ahead of the hurricane.

We are the fortunate ones. The ones who had all our emergency systems and storm preparation in place, and didn’t have to activate them.

Because we were spared, we can continue to bless those who weren’t so lucky.

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