Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Jan. 12

The (Tupelo) Daily Journal on building a technical center to serve the county:

By now most eligible voters have likely decided where they stand on the Lee County School District’s proposed $15 million bond issue to construct a proposed career and technical education center. The only question that remains is who will go out and vote?

Of the bond issue total, an estimated $9.5 million will be used to build the career and technical center, with $2 million to be used for security upgrades, and any remaining funds used for infrastructure improvements across the district, as reported by Daily Journal staff writer Blake Alsup. If approved, the bond issue will not increase tax rates.

We support the county schools creating the facility, but hope to eventually see the Lee County School District and the Tupelo Public School District work together to have one facility for all students.

Businesses and industries, locally and regionally, who invest physical resources to a technical center would benefit by being able to maximize their resources to participate at one location.

It is financially prudent to consolidate all resources, working together to build our workforce. Technical center programs should not need companies to make a decision as to where they participate if their resources are limited.

The Lee County School District’s proposed facility will include pathway programs: Four classroom-based: health science, teacher academy, information technology and hospitality and tourism. The other four will be shop-based: construction/carpentry; transportation, distribution and logistics; industrial maintenance and ag power equipment/ag and natural resources.

The proposed center will be located at the Hive, the Community Development Foundation’s new industrial park located north of state Highway 76 in Tupelo and to the west of Bissell Road. The approximately 30,000 square foot facility will be built on 20 acres of land that the district has purchased there.

The district hopes to start construction in spring 2020 with a goal of having the yet-to-be-named center open and available for students to use beginning in August 2021.

The voters’ decision will make a direct impact in the lives of students who will soon become the next generation of our region’s workforce. We hope the school districts will come together in discussions and consider having one facility serving the county, city and region.

Online: https://www.djournal.com/

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Jan. 11

The Greenwood Commonwealth on the Mississippi State Board of Health and medical marijuana:

Members of the Mississippi State Board of Health have sent out a letter urging people to vote against the medical marijuana constitutional amendment this coming November.

The letter, which was published in the Commonwealth Friday (Jan. 10), was signed by 10 board members. It said the proposed amendment would allow the use of marijuana and its derivatives such as cannabidiol “for broad and non-specific reasons.” It added that the amendment “would allow for much more marijuana use than the limited examples often cited by the amendment’s proponents.”

The board members also dislike the provision in the amendment that specifically puts the state Board of Health in charge “of everything from setting and collecting taxes on marijuana to deciding where it can be grown and how the tax revenue is spent.”

And the letter suggested that the initiative is unneeded, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved several drugs, in pill form, that are derived from marijuana with more in the pipeline.

The board’s reservations about the amendment are understandable, especially the reluctance for what essentially is a health-care agency to take on duties that would be better handled elsewhere, such as by the Department of Revenue.

Reservations about allowing patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for medical treatment also are understandable. It is a big step for this conservative state to consider the partial legalization of a drug that for decades has been described as the first substance used by many eventual drug addicts, the one many parents warned their children to avoid.

The Board of Health says that more research needs to be done on the medical effects of marijuana and its offshoots. That’s true, but the board then makes the mistake of trotting out the warning that marijuana “negatively affects individuals’ processing speed, reasoning, executive function and memory.” Just like alcohol — which happens to be legal.

However, the most glaring flaw in the board’s letter is the contention that Mississippi’s elected representatives should be able to change the law. If voters approve the amendment, it will be part of the Constitution, and changing it would require the time-consuming process of another amendment.

This is the Legislature’s fault. Although there have been a few legislature backers for medical marijuana, including one wealthy Republican, Rep. Joel Bomgar of Madison, who has bankrolled the lion’s share of the initiative drive, it chose not to address medical marijuana in any substantial way. Thus its advocates, including not just Bomgar but cancer patients seeking pain relief and parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy, stepped up.

Most likely, lawmakers have avoided this issue because they fear negative reaction from voters. You can’t fault them for that: Plenty of people would object to the legalization of marijuana for medical care, and would not consider the obvious difference between that and making the drug legal for recreational use.

It’s not too late, however, for the Legislature to interject itself. Under Mississippi’s initiative process, when a proposal gets enough signatures to land on the ballot, the Legislature has the option of adding an alternative to be considered by voters as well.

The proposed amendment will add hundreds of words to the state Constitution. It reads much more like a bill, with plenty of specifics and details, than it does the general policy outlines typical of a constitutional provision.

If the public wants medical marijuana, lawmakers should consider whether they really want to exclude themselves from deciding how it’s regulated now and into the future.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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Jan. 8

The (Columbus) Dispatch on Mississippi's economic development growth:

It's fair to say that when Glenn McCullough announced last month that he was stepping down as director of the Mississippi Development Authority, Joe Max Higgins didn't exactly break down in tears.

That announcement evoked the polar opposite of emotion in Higgins, CEO of the Golden Triangle Development LINK, who said he would be drinking a celebratory glass of scotch when McCullough leaves his position as the state's top economic development official at the end of the month.

"Glenn McCullough has been an unadulterated train wreck at MDA," the never-reticent Higgins told the Columbus Rotary Club during its Tuesday (Jan. 7) luncheon.

Appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to the position in 2015, McCullough's personality fit that of the man who appointed him: a "positive talk only" approach that neglected the issues that have seen the state's economy grow at a fraction of the pace of surrounding states and instead celebrating profusely over any minor addition.

The fact, Higgins said, is that economic growth has stagnated in the state since McCullough's sunny arrival at the MDA.

Higgins said the numbers back him up, pointing that from the LINK's formation in 2003 through 2014, he said, they saw an average of $445 million in investments and 479 jobs created per year. In the four years since McCullough became head of MDA, that number has dropped to $229 million and 303 jobs per year.

"For those of you that are struggling with doing math in your head, we have seen a 40 percent reduction in our announced (projects and investments) and a 40 percent reduction in our announced jobs in the four years that that administration has been here," Higgins said.

Higgins attributes the decline to the MDA's reluctance to work with and seek advice from economic developers throughout the state. He's hopeful the person incoming governor Tate Reeves appoints to lead the MDA will remedy that lack of communication.

It's easy to point fingers, certainly, but there's no question that Mississippi's economic development growth pales in comparison to those of our neighboring states. It is also fair to point out that Mississippi did itself no favors in creating an environment that is attractive to business and industry. Throughout the Byrant administration, all the eggs have gone into a single basket ­-- tax cuts and incentives. Those incentives are attractive, but companies want more than that. They want good schools, good roads, good quality of life amenities that have declined almost in direct proportion to the state's orgy of tax cuts.

It's time to take a new look at economic development strategy. What better place to start is to talk to people like Higgins, for whom economic development is their focus every day.

It's not a matter of demonizing McCullough as it is shaking up MDA's modus-operandi.

Online: https://www.cdispatch.com/