We are just about 48 hours away from the start of the 2015 legislative session, and exchanges are already underway from Mississippi's Republican leaders about their goals for this year.
Let's start with Mississippi's primary embarrassment: Governor Phil Bryant. Bryant recently had an interview with the Associated Press. During this interview, Phil Bryant reinforced why Mississippi continues to struggle under his tenure in office.
Here are some quotes from the interview:
Let me make sure I have this right. Phil Bryant believes we are going to solve poverty by putting unfunded government mandates on businesses? Phil Bryant has made a career out of scaring people that government is going to interfere in the affairs of private businesses, and here he is telling one of the larger industries in the state that he wants them to keep track of their customers? How will this be enforced and regulated? How will casinos know if their patrons owe child support? What about privacy for those who do not owe child support? Why doesn't Bryant realize that his idea will not make any measurable difference when it comes to poverty reduction? Why is Bryant being hypocritical in arguing that government programs will not solve a problem by offering a government program to solve the problem?AP: Poverty is one Mississippi's most difficult challenges. How do you improve conditions?Bryant: "We've got a lot of families that have no father in the home, that have for three generations have never seen a parent come home from work. We have failing school systems. We're not trying to place blame on anyone, but there are failing school districts in areas where they are needed the most... We're going to ask the Legislature to remove any winnings at a casino from a parent who may owe child support. So you won't be going around gambling and winning at the dice table and not taking care of your children.... Every time we think we have a government program to solve it, it doesn't seem to work properly. What will work is the restoration of the family system, adequate schools and job opportunities for every student that has the ability to fill those jobs."
What are "adequate schools?" Why do they have to simply be adequate? Mississippi needs excellent schools.
If the governor is going to be sincere about restoring the family system, he needs to focus on the state's prison system. Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, mostly impacting communities of color. If restoring families is the goal, we need to restore fairness in the justice system.
You can read more about Phil Bryant's disinterest in solving Mississippi's poverty crisis HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Phil Bryant is not telling the whole story here. In January 2004, the month Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) left office, Mississippi's labor force was 1,307,283 with 1,233,597 Mississippians employed. In November 2014, the state's labor force was 1,246,545 with 1,155,944 Mississippians employed. Phil Bryant must not be very good at math to not realize that there are fewer jobs in Mississippi now than there were ten years ago. Keep in mind that is about 77,000 fewer Mississippians without work under the watch of Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant. All of Bryant's big talk about him being on strong on job creation is just that: talk.AP: Mississippi has persistently had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. What needs to be done?Bryant: "Two years ago at the Neshoba County Fair, I said my goal for unemployment in Mississippi is 7.5 percent.... Well, we are at 7.3 percent now. So, from (10.4 percent) the month before I took office to 7.3 percent now -- it is an improvement.... There are roughly 34,000 jobs available in Mississippi today.... We've got to find the skilled workforce to fill them. And that's the challenge -- to go and find people who can complete a career program within high school, who can go to a community college or go on to (a university) and be prepared for the advance manufacturing jobs of the future."
Last, but certainly not least, this gem:
Here is the heart of the matter, ladies and gentlemen. Phil Bryant and the Republicans do not care about funding public education in Mississippi. Bryant's actions, and now his words, speak volumes. He can talk about all the hoops and hurdles teachers have to go through in order to get a pay raise that still makes them the least-paid teachers in the Southeast. Charter schools have practically gone nowhere despite all the claims that they would deliver education into the Promised Land. Three years into Bryant's term and he has not put forward a single proposal to modify the MAEP. If he dislikes the program as much as he claims, he has done nothing to change it. But why would he? He said in this interview that funding education is not a priority for him since funding would make no difference.AP: And speaking of adequate schools, why not fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the budget formula that was put into law in 1997?Bryant: "I don't think it would make any difference. I don't think that formula will get us where we want to be.... Republicans are very willing to fund things that work in education. We are unwilling to put money into a formula that has not proven to be effective and that appears to increase the administrative expenditures more than the classroom.... We're willing to give a $100 million teacher pay raise. We're certainly willing to put money into charter schools and to scholarship programs for children who want to become teachers. We are willing to put money into educational systems that work. What we are being asked to do is to take a formula from the 1990s and fully fund it and hope that it works."
Buckle up. It's going to be an interesting year.
For more of Phil Bryant's bad ideas, you may read the full AP interview for yourself HERE. Health disclaimer: it could be bad for your blood pressure.