• 81°

Follow the money and you get answers

Public hearings sometimes reveal aspects of our world that are disturbing.

Such was the case recently at the County public hearing at College Hill when the question of fire protection was raised. Someone in the audience said that SB2362 had scuttled one source of funds for firetrucks.

Actually, that bill in the Senate and others in both houses slashed funds for a number of agencies. Here are a few: Underfunded public education by $176 million.

Underfunded the Classroom Supply Fund by $24 million. Budget cuts to Veterans Affairs (SB2881), cuts to Mental Health (SB 2888), cuts to Human Services, cuts to Rehabilitation Services, cuts to the Health Department, cuts to Medicaid, cuts to Schools for Deaf and Blind, cuts to universities and community colleges, cuts to libraries.

The biggest killer in all this was SB2362, which removed special funds and dedicated funding for all departments, killing trust funds for the deaf and blind and fire trucks for counties.

It must be noted to the legislature’s credit that some bonuses emerged from this session. A generous $265 million in economic incentives went to two foreign companies during the Special Session. And SB2858 created $415 million in tax cuts for various kinds of corporations. Slashing so many revenue sources yielded a pile of dollars for special interest groups. And, thankfully, there was the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which was tapped for another fortune. One must assume the brilliance of our folks in Jackson is powerful enough to see the future and know we won’t need that set-aside money.

The College Hill forum put the spotlight on another problem many folks rightly complain about: public roads. One of the bills that would have provided some funds to local governments for road and bridge repair never even came to the floor. One can only surmise that the debates on other failed bills consumed so many hours.

In that category would be HB1021 and HB 1034, which killed pay raises for teachers. Add to that HB1098, which killed pay increases for Teacher Assistants, and a lot of money is saved — and these two vital forces in Mississippi must continue to be badly shorted in their paychecks.

One final note: HB797 was defeated. The significance of that is that some of the folks who likely would have felt its impact were among the folks who killed Campaign Finance Reform. A trip to the Internet came up with “Mississippi campaign finance reports — sos.state.ms.us.”

What followed was most interesting: “We would like to show you a description here but the site won’t allow us.” Actually the Secretary of State’s webpage does open the door to checking election funding. All one must do is find “Elections & Voting” before going on to “Campaign Finance Search” and then going on to “Filed after 12/31/2009.”

Only 207 elected state officials to check on! Just type in the name of an elected official. Finally, print out or read the thousands of pages of campaign contributions made by 483 registered lobbyists and 193 pages of PACs.

Now try to cross-reference all the money coming to a particular official. Or try to find how much a particular PAC or lobbyist group spent on a given bill.

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at Ole Miss, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.