Thomas Howard: Legislature sets the bar high for itself

By THOMAS HOWARD,

The Mississippi Legislature went to bat for the people this past week as senators and representatives rushed to Jackson to strip Gov. Tate Reeves of his authority to spend the $1.25 billion our state received through the CARES Act to help fight the coronavirus.

In a shockingly bipartisan move that stunned Mississippians by acknowledging Democrats still exist in our state, the legislature voted unanimously in the House and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate in to let the duly elected representatives of the people decide where the money would be spent.

That’s good. The people should have a say in how the money gets spent, who gets how much and when they get it. Yet, as our elected representatives divvy up the money among small businesses, schools, hospitals and hopefully people, I wonder who will make sure they follow the will of the people too.

When it comes to spending money, the Mississippi Legislature doesn’t have the greatest track record for making sure the money goes where they said it would go.

Look at the gambling revenue from casinos, money that was supposed to be earmarked for education. As any school district with a casino in it, and they’ll be more than glad to tell you the numbers don’t add up.

How about the state lottery? Remember how our state was getting millions for roads and bridges? Well, that money is going to the Department of Transportation, the director of whom told the legislature he needed $400 million more just to maintain the current level of repair. It’s money down a well.

I don’t doubt our senators and representatives have the best intentions for the CARES Act money. They proved that by taking it away from Gov. Reeves. But, I worry this money will end up like so much before it, split out, chopped up, divvied and divided among the various districts, projects and programs until there’s nothing left to put toward its original purpose – helping the people.

The legislature has set a high bar for itself, and I really hope our officials reach it. Our communities are depending on them.

Thomas Howard is the managing editor of The Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at thoward@newtoncountyappeal.com