Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. Oct. 8, 2021.

Editorial: Higher Ed delivers economic boost

It’s no surprise when a large university reports a significant economic impact from its services. But because it’s easy to overlook the topic, the numbers from a recent study of the University of Southern Mississippi bear noting.

A study by USM’s economic development and entrepreneurship center, with the results verified by an independent economics firm, found that the university’s economic impact is now $663 million per year. That’s a 10% increase from the last study five years ago.

The new study examined USM’s activity from 2017 to 2019. It reported that the university generated $34 million per year in tax revenue, while the annual output of student and employee spending was $565 million.

A USM press release included plenty of positive information about the school: It creates and supports 7,437 jobs in the state. The athletics program had a $41 million impact, up from $31 million in the last study. And it’s Gulf Coast operations are growing rapidly, adding three buildings, representing a $36 million investment, in just the past five years.

One other item in the report deserves particular attention.

A lot of USM’s students are sticking around. The report estimated that 60% of the university’s graduates stay in Mississippi. For a state whose census numbers are pointing to a problem keeping young, educated residents here instead of in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta, this is a positive sign.

The USM report naturally does not include similar research from other universities in Mississippi. But they’ve got their own success stories. The other schools of USM’s size — the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State and Jackson State — have the largest financial impact, of course. But even the smaller universities, such as Mississippi Valley State, have an oversized effect on the communities where they are located.

The USM study is a good reminder that the state’s substantial investments in higher education pay off hugely not only for the students but for the local economies.

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Tupelo Daily Journal. Oct. 6, 2021.

Editorial: Biden proposal to monitor bank accounts with at least $600 is a terrible idea

The Biden administration is looking for ways to close an estimated $160 billion tax gap — the amount of money that is owed by various taxpayers but that has not been collected. It is an admirable goal and highlights a definite problem that needs to be addressed in a responsible way.

Unfortunately, one of the administration’s main proposals is not that.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has proposed to Congress that banks be required to report the total annual inflow and outflow of any account with at least $600 in it or an aggregate of $600 in transactions over the course the year. Virtually every bank account in America would fall under such a low threshold.

Mitch Waycaster, president and CEO of Renasant Bank, best summed up the obvious problems with such a proposal: “The administration’s proposal to require financial institutions to track and submit the vast majority of their banking customer information to the IRS risks major data breaches, infringes on financial privacy and overburdens the banking system with massive data collection responsibilities …”

What local and state leaders are saying about Biden’s proposal

Proponents defend against charges of privacy invasion by pointing out such reporting would simply add two lines to existing 1099 tax forms. The two lines would show the total deposits and total deductions from each account for the year but would not provide any transaction details.

There are no answers, however, to the added risk of data breaches and the extra expenses — overly burdensome on smaller banks — that would result from the new requirements.

As to the low threshold of $600, Yellen and others say it is to prevent wealthier Americans from being able to game the system. If the threshold is too large, they argue, tax evaders of means will still be able to afford the extra accounting hassles of dividing their moneys and spreading out their transactions.

The logic is not lost on us, even if $600 still seems far too low. However, this is another case of violating the civil liberties and personal freedoms of the many to catch the wrongdoing of a comparable few. That is not how we should operate in America. The freedoms and liberties of the lawful should be protected above all else whenever possible. Certainly, in this example, it is possible.

Yellen also points out that part of the problem is that the IRS is not funded to the level needed to hire enough auditors and investigators to go after tax cheats. She has asked for $80 billion in additional funding over 10 years, which House Democrats have included in their proposed $3.5 trillion spending bill.

So before the federal government begins snooping on the bank accounts of every American, perhaps Congress should provide more funding for IRS auditors and investigators. Yellen estimates that alone could generate $200 billion over 10 years in additional tax revenue. That seems like a good start.

And while they are at it, with more manpower, the IRS should be able to do a better job of correcting auditing practices that seem to unfairly and disproportionately target poorer and often minority taxpayers, particularly in the Southern United States.

But, we digress.

At the end of the day, there are better ways to close the tax gap, such as simplifying the tax code. The bank monitoring proposal — particularly with a threshold of $600 — is a terrible idea. Key Congressional Democrats and Republicans oppose the plan, and we hope they will stand firm even as Biden, Yellen and other proponents continue to lobby for its passage.

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The (Columbus) Dispatch. Oct. 8, 2021.

Editorial: A treasure of nostalgia

In the summer of 1972, the management of Sears decided to bury a time capsule at the location of its new store as part of its grand opening celebration. Citizens were invited to add momentos to the time capsule before it was deposited into the ground in the parking lot outside the Sears store at Leigh Mall to be unearthed on Columbus’ bicentennial in 2021.

But 50 years was pretty much a lifetime away, and what was then a diversion on a summer’s day was quickly forgotten. The bicentennial came and went before there was any real attention paid to the time capsule.

On Wednesday, the time capsule was finally removed, its soggy contents displayed on a folding table during a short ceremony.

Much, indeed, had changed in the intervening years.

Leigh Mall, once the crown in the city’s retail firmament, has long since lost its luster, but the arrival of a new owner, Georgia retail developer Jim Hull, holds out promise for a much-needed renaissance of the property.

The contents of the time capsule didn’t produce the hoped-for oohs-and-aahs that sometimes accompany the discovery of long-forgotten history. This was not King Tut’s Tomb, after all.

But not all treasures are measured by their commercial value or unique qualities.

Much of what had been stored away for posterity was in poor condition, rain-soaked as it was. Perhaps this was at least partially the result of the historic flood that happened about six months after the time capsule was buried.

Columbus historian Rufus Ward, who helped retrieve the items Wednesday, said only about a dozen of the 40-to-50 photos that were placed in the capsule are recognizable images.

Aside from the photos, there were yearbooks from the MUW and the city’s two high schools at the time — Lee and Caldwell, neither of which are still open — a city phone book, a Bible and a copy of the day’s edition of The Commercial Dispatch. There may be a few other items yet to be displayed — Ron Cox, who was 14 at the time, remembered contributing his POW/MIA bracelet — but for the most part, the contents were unremarkable, except for those whose memories were stirred by them.

About a dozen people — people who are approaching or have arrived at senior citizen status — were at the scene when the capsule was buried and turned out to see it exhumed. They were kids and young adults at the first ceremony, their lives all ahead of them.

For them, especially, Wednesday’s event was rich in nostalgia.

The purpose of time capsules is to capture a snapshot of the people and places and preserve it for future generations. They tell our story, and not unsurprisingly, the stories they tell are simple, familiar. They are stories of normal people living normal lives, pursuing normal dreams, suffering normal disappointments, celebrating normal milestones and achievements.

When they are retrieved long years later, their value lies mainly in what can be gleaned from their lives and what memories may endure.

Hull said he’d like to bury another time capsule, perhaps when the first new tenants return to Leigh Mall.

If folks are allowed to participate, it will be interesting to see what they choose to contribute, what they believe is important enough to be remembered, the story of who we were at that moment in the broad sweep of history.

The writer Ann Lamott, in cautioning people not to take themselves too seriously, put it this way: “Every 100 years, it’s all new people.”

That will be at least half-true when the next capsule is exhumed in 2072 or thereabouts.

We may not be around then, but maybe our memory will be.

END