Mississippi editorial roundup
Posted June 14
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on Mississippi's lawsuit over a failed biofuel plant:
Mississippi is suing the former owners and officers of a failed biofuel plant, saying they swindled the state out of tens of millions of dollars that helped the shortly lived project get off the ground.
Whom, though, can the taxpayers sue for putting any public money in such a high-risk, speculative deal in the first place?
No one, of course, as politicians can throw tons of money at "economic development" and risk no financial liability when their foolhardy ideas go sour.
We saw this more than a decade ago in a low-tech Democratic brainstorm — the $43.5 million squandered on a beef-processing plant in Yalobusha County. We've seen it more recently in high-tech Republican-pushed projects — $26 million wasted on a solar panel manufacturer in Tate County, and then another $75 million on KiOR, the biofuel plant in Columbus.
In the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Jim Hood, the state argues that KiOR did not shoot straight with Mississippi officials when they got them to help bankroll the plan to convert wood chips into synthetic crude oil.
The lawsuit contends that KiOR "should have informed the state about the speculative nature of the company's technology, the fundamental difference between the company's biocrude and actual crude oil, the reckless assumptions built into the company's financial modeling and the company's inability to reach an agreement with an oil company to refine KiOR's biocrude."
The lawsuit is seeking the $75 million the state loaned and a few million dollars more to help make it whole.
Maybe KiOR's principals did paint too rosy a picture. In a related dispute, the company's former chief executive officer, former chief financial officer and chief investor have agreed to pay $4.5 million — an average of about $130 per KiOR shareholder after lawyers take their cut of a third — to partially compensate the shareholders for their losses.
However, the Mississippi politicians, including former Gov. Haley Barbour, and their so-called economic development experts who recommended making the taxpayer-backed loan to KiOR are as much to blame as the company. Why didn't they do their due diligence? Or even better, why didn't they just say to KiOR when it came calling, 'Go see the investment bankers, because we have no idea whether turning wood chips into fuel is economically viable'?
It's questionable whether the state should be putting taxpayers' money behind any private venture, but they sure shouldn't do it with one that's counting on unproven technology for its success.
There's no way that Mississippi's elected officials or bureaucrats have the expertise to know which technology start-ups will pan out and which will flop. They're just asking for trouble when they pretend to.
The Oxford Eagle on cuts to a regional center for clients with disabilities:
The North Mississippi Regional Center has long been a trusted and valuable member of our community, serving clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities with impeccable care.
That isn't about to change. But it won't be easy watching such an important service provider to families and individuals in need cut back its services due to state budget cuts.
Mississippi has cut $8 million in annual funding to NMRC, cuts that take effect on July 1. That's a drastic number to an agency already tasked with making the most of what is available. The center has no choice but to reduce services, and as a result, it has stopped admitting new residential patients and evaluations and therapeutic services to infants and children under the age of 3 will be eliminated.
Other programs may be cut or reduced as well.
We are proud of the work done by the NMRC staff, which has shown through the years that tax dollars can be well spent and provide high value when managed right.
But we are troubled to see our state take from those who need it most, those with few other places to turn.
Mississippi has an obligation to do better than whittling away at a valuable place like NMRC.
The Commercial Dispatch on child poverty:
Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation releases its Kids Count Report, which provides data on the state of the nation's children. It is a voluminous report, drawn from U.S. Census data and other sources, that examines the conditions our children live with on a state-by-state basis, funneling the data into four major categories — economic well-being, education, health and family/community.
You will find nothing unusual about how Mississippi's children compare to those of other states in this year's report. It is, as disturbing, as always. Or at least, it should be disturbing.
For example, the report shows that 31 percent of the state's children are living in poverty, which is actually an IMPROVEMENT from last year (33 percent).
Mississippi ranks last or near the last in all four categories and, when all four are combined, Mississippi is last there, too.
If this were a ranking of "best states to attend the opera" or "best states to find great sushi bars" we could shrug it off, easy enough.
But when 3 out of every 10 of the state's most innocent, most vulnerable residents find themselves living in poverty and all of the soul-crippling, hope-depriving things that go with it, we should be shocked into action.
But it seems we have become desensitized to the very real human suffering the data in this report so plainly states.
There are states, we are certain, when the idea that so many of its children live in squalor would be considered a crisis and its leadership would act immediately to address the matter.
But in Mississippi, you rarely hear our leaders even mention the subject. It does not appear to be even on the radar of those who are best positioned to do something about it.
It is not a "government problem," we are told.
But that is a lie.
The issue of child poverty is so pervasive that only the collective will of the people, exercised though the government we choose to act on our behalf, can address it on a consistent, coordinated and continual way.
We pause here to honor the dedication of so many private groups - churches, civic clubs, charities — who are in the trenches, trying as best they can with limited resources, to meet the needs of the desperate poor. We are a big-hearted people and we answer the call of conscience.
But until the state government we send to Jackson shows even an inkling of concern about this crisis, there is little hope that we can change the future of those children in any meaningful way.
We must be sure that our legislators hear the anguished cries of the poor child. Regular citizens can be that voice. The urgency of the message must be made clear to those who are in a position to do something about it.
We offer no solution, for there is likely no single solution. Nor can we lay the burden solely on the shoulders of our government. But government must carry its share of the load, which it clearly has been unwilling to do.
It is likely that improving the conditions of our children will take a broad-based, coordinated, well-funded public-private partnership.
But first, we have to care.
Ask your legislator.