Mississippi editorial roundup
Posted March 15
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on a higher fuel tax to support funding for highway maintenance:
Winston Churchill, the legendary British prime minister, made this observation during World War II: "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they've tried everything else."
The Mississippi Legislature, when it comes to finding money for highway maintenance, seems determined to prove that Churchill's insight was wonderfully accurate.
Last week, the House approved a bill to borrow $50 million to fix or replace bridges. The bill also set aside money from voluntary internet sales tax collections for road and bridge work. Furthermore, highways would get more money if state tax revenue increases in future years.
The bill's chance of becoming law is far from guaranteed. The Senate gets a second look at it, and a conference committee most likely will, too. Gov. Phil Bryant also would have to sign it.
The effort is appreciated. The Mississippi Economic Council, which for two years has pushed for more money for highway maintenance, praised the House amendment.
But the House only provided a small percentage of the $350 million per year that the MEC says the state needs to spend to keep its highway system in good shape. Borrowing money is a onetime patch that only adds to the state's debt. It is the absolute wrong way to approach the ongoing, perpetual, neverending challenge of bridge and highway maintenance.
The obvious solution — the right thing, as Churchill might put it — is a sizable increase in the state gasoline tax. Republicans who are in charge of the Legislature haven't gotten there yet. They're still trying everything else. They're borrowing money, allocating indeterminate internet sales tax payments and hoping that Mississippi's economy will improve quickly.
Currently, the state adds 18.4 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, a rate that hasn't changed in 30 years. If it were just adjusted for inflation, it would more than double.
Although such an increase might initially be unwelcome to Mississippi drivers and businesses that use fleets of vehicles, they would benefit from the results. It would provide a larger stream of cash, year in and year out, to allow the state to keep its roads and bridges in better shape, thus reducing the wear and tear on everyone's cars and trucks.
A higher fuel tax also would recognize that highway construction and maintenance costs have greatly increased since 1987, the last time the state raised the tax.
With fuel prices in a twoyear slump, this is the perfect time for the Legislature to address its highway funding problem. As the House indicated with its action last week, lawmakers simply haven't come around to that idea.
The mindset is frustrating. The Legislature eagerly borrows hundreds of millions of dollars to attract outofstate megabusinesses to Mississippi, giving them a huge competitive advantage in workforce hiring. But it is unwilling to recognize the importance of greater investment in a highway network that has the potential to help every single county in the state.
The public unfortunately must be patient. It's a matter of time, probably a few years, before "everything else" proves unsustainable and a serious fuel tax debate will begin.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on improving public schools:
Education has always been the key to improving quality of life in communities across Northeast Mississippi. Strong schools are a direct link to improving economic and community development.
While our region has taken some positive steps to increase educational opportunities for students, there will always be more work to do to ensure the future leaders of our communities are receiving a quality education from an early age through high-school graduation and beyond.
Identifying those areas for improvement is a critical part of implementing real change that will result in better opportunities for students.
Mississippi KIDS COUNT's 2017 fact book does just that by looking to answer the question "What would it take for Mississippi to go from 50th in the United States to number one in the Southeast," in terms of overall child well-being?
The group, which is housed at the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University and releases the data-filled fact book every two years, found the answer to be one that involves a lot of hurdles.
Linda Southward, director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT, said this year's fact book addresses a broad scope of issues facing Mississippi children, as reported by the Daily Journal's Emma Crawford Kent.
Two of the key education issues, Southward said, are access to quality early childhood education and chronic absenteeism.
Better access to quality early childhood education should have a trickle-down effect, Southward said, putting children on track to read proficiently by third grade and ultimately, graduate from high school.
Those two issues are ones that local leaders have worked hard to make a dent in over the years.
But they still need a lot more attention.
According to KIDS COUNT, only 44.7 percent of Lee County children were enrolled in preschool or nursery school from 2011-2015. Surrounding Pontotoc (21.3 percent), Union (51.7 percent), Itawamba (54.7 percent), Chickasaw (38.7 percent) and Monroe (40.6 percent) counties also show room for growth.
Northeast Mississippi communities have embraced positive initiatives - things like Excel by 5 and The Campaign for Grade Level Reading - in recent years.
Southward said she's encouraged by the growth of those initiatives and would like to see more state policy built on ideas and plans that have been successfully implemented in individual communities.
Now that some of our state's educational areas for improvement have been brought to the forefront, we hope local, regional and state officials use the data report to push meaningful programs to help all of our students.
A strong investment in our students and schools now will pay dividends many times over for communities across our region.
The Commercial Dispatch on harnessing technology for humanitarian purposes:
Sometimes, finding the answer is not the solution. In fact, the answer often leads to more questions.
We are roughly 25 years into the Age of the Internet and, according to experts, on the cusp of an even larger technological age.
Today, our students are studying things that either did not exist when their parents were in school or existed only on a very small scale.
Today's parents did not study robotics and did not learn to code when they were in schoolchildren. But their children certainly are. The eighth-grader who is now learning the rudimentary aspects of robotics or being introduced to coding, is preparing for a career that may not now exist.
It's an exciting time to be young as we move deeper into the Technology Age, the Industrial Age a fading memory.
Most often, new technology emerges to meet the challenges of our economy. It seeks efficiency and cost-savings. Robots that can do the work of 50 workers is great for the company, but not so good for the 50 workers who find themselves obsolete. And while it's true that new jobs emerge to manage the machine that does that work, it doesn't create the volume of jobs that machine replaces.
So, as our technology advances, other, more humanitarian, questions emerge.
Apart from those implications, new technology can work to serve higher purposes, perhaps relieving the suffering of millions of people.
We were reminded of that possibility recently when a Mississippi high school robotics class turned its attention to the question of homeless people as part of a national competition.
Given the challenge to build a device that combined STEAM research — an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — with a community purpose, the Gulfport team noted there were 143 homeless students in their school district. The class came up with the idea to gear something specifically for the homeless population.
The result of their efforts is a solar-powered vending machine that supplies free hygiene products to homeless people. Solar power enables the machines to be located anywhere there are concentrations of homeless people.
We are delighted to see this kind of thinking because the best uses of technological are not always profit-centered.
Here in the Golden Triangle, there are many schools with ambitious robotics program, and we encourage them to be inspired by what their fellow students on the Coast have done and challenge them to apply what they are learning in ways that benefit the broader society.
That is the challenge. We are eager to see what our kids do with that challenge.