Dr. Michael Forster

Mississippi legislature losing ground in “transparency”

Among other things, a democratic society insists that its leaders operate in the light of day, does it not?  Apparently not in Mississippi, where legislative leaders increasingly do their business behind closed doors, and in fact with very few people in the room.  And even then, vital public business evidently does not get done.

Social workers would do well to read Geoff Pender’s April 8 Clarion-Ledger opinion piece (you can find it here – http://www.clarionledger.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/04/08/legislature-failure-communicate-geoff-pender/100163728/).  Pender highlights the leadership’s failed effort to arrive at a state budget in 24 hours without consulting, well, anyone – “Astonishingly, the legislative leadership’s effort to set a state budget in about 24 hours went awry.  A last-minute standoff between Republican House and Senate leaders over internet sales taxes and road funding killed transportation budgets, and a procedural snag killed the attorney general’s budget. Lawmakers will have to come back in special session to finish their business….”

The Republican-dominated legislature has given up on full hearings on proposed legislation, preferring to hand out final versions of bills, worked out in private by the leadership, just prior to votes.  No vetting, no debate.  House GOP caucus meetings, convened in secret by Speaker Gunn, are apparently used as a substitute for open discussion.  As to the Senate, what evidence there is suggests that Lt. Gov. Reeves just passes down word on what he wants to see happen.   Rank-and-file members of the legislature, “our” representatives, sent to Jackson to express “our” will, are provided information only on a need-to-know basis.  And as Pender puts it, “apparently they don’t need to know many things….”

I suspect that the real targets of all the secrecy are not members of the legislature, but “we, the people,” who are being steadily deprived of not just information, but vital public services and opportunities via round after round of budget cuts.  Mississippi social workers who continue to think that service providing agencies will somehow manage to muddle through the current fiscal mess (“well, you know, we  always have before”) had better think again.  Though to my knowledge final budget numbers have not been published, likely budget allocations and cuts for the coming fiscal year (beginning July 1) are as follows:

  • K-12 education: $2.479 billion, 1 percent cut
  • Universities: $666.8 million, 11 percent cut
  • Community colleges: $237.2 million, 10 percent cut
  • Medicaid: $918.7 million, 3 percent cut
  • Health Dept.: $57 million, 10 percent cut
  • Mental Health: $226.7 million, 6 percent cut
  • Public Safety: $84.5 million, 6 percent cut

Perhaps the leadership believes that if they can dissolve transparency in government altogether, no one will realize what’s happening to them.

Dr. Michael Forster
Dr. Michael Forster

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