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

Do state leaders need a math refresher?

Try to make sense of this:

State tax revenues continue to lag, so on Friday the governor ordered more cuts in spending for the current year (ending June 30).  This has become a depressing ritual; Friday’s cuts were the sixth round of reductions by Bryant in the past two fiscal years.

Making a bad situation worse, next fiscal year’s revenue projection was revised downward, necessitating new cuts across state government even as the “old” cuts are made permanent.  New cuts (on top of the old) include 1% for K-12 education, 6% for community colleges, and 5% for the IHL schools like Southern Miss, in addition to another 5% for Health, 2% for Mental Health, and under funding of the Medicaid deficit (among many other cuts; the suffering is truly broad-based).

Meanwhile, the leadership acts as if it’s blissfully unaware of the revenue impact of 40 tax cuts made over the past five year (about a $350 million loss for next year), or that of $415 million in new corporate tax reductions that start kicking in this year.  Instead they point to a slow national and state economic recovery as the culprit (no doubt due to turn around any time now!), and show no signs of willingness either to delay scheduled tax cuts, or to impose new taxes. Instead they strike a “suck it up” pose in regard to pleading agency administrators.  “This is going to require state agencies to do more with less,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.  Thank you, Mr. Reeves, for that deep insight into fiscal prudence.

Does our state leadership really not get the simple math involved here?  Or do they really think that this is the government reducing “tough love” that Mississippi needs to improve the well being of its overly pampered citizenry?

Dr. Michael Forster

Republican health care act will be devastating to Mississippi

If there’s any doubt what a disaster the Republican’s health care “reform” will be for Mississippi, read Sid Salter’s column in today’s Clarion-Ledger.   Compared to the rest of the nation, Mississippi has more poor uninsured citizens, and greater dependence on Medicaid.  

Salter’s column reads in part –

“(I)n the poorest state in the union, Mississippi’s health care disparities create a huge problem in terms of paying for health care…

“How important is Medicaid in Mississippi? Well, about 46 percent of all federal funds received in Mississippi is tied to Medicaid. In 2011, 37 percent of Medicaid spending in Mississippi was for Medicare (health care for senior citizens) beneficiaries with 162,000 dual eligible — those eligible for both Medicare (by age) and Medicaid (by poverty).

“In Mississippi, the Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers 1-in-7 adults under the age of 65, 1-of-2 low income Mississippians, 1-of-2 children, 3-of-4 nursing home residents, and 2-of-5 people with disabilities.”

The “American Health Care Act,” presently sailing through a Republican-dominated Congress, will be devastating to Mississippi.  Health care costs will rise, coverage will shrink, health disparities will multiply.  Love Trump or hate Trump, this is not what candidate Trump promised.  This is not “reform” that we can afford.

Dr. Michael Forster

Advancing social work values in a hostile climate

Mississippi social workers are correct to complain, as one did to me recently, that “it’s hard to talk about social work values these days; we live in Trump country, you know.”  Hard, perhaps, but not impossible.

Fruitful discussion requires avoiding two traps in particular  – (1) the trap of defending specific flawed policies, and (2) the trap of wanting to walk away the “winner” of an argument.  I don’t try to defend Obamacare, for example; instead I say that we need a health care system that takes care of everyone at a cost that everyone can afford – my interlocutor included!  In the same vein, I do my best to avoid “arguments” to start with, and never, ever try to win one.  Far better to keep the relationship bridge open – “I appreciate your point of view.  You’ve given me a lot to think about.  Let’s talk again soon.”  With luck you’ve given them something to think about in the meantime too.

Values cut deeper than specific issues in any case.  Especially in hostile and perhaps heated contexts, focus on deeply ingrained cultural values such as the golden rule, shared responsibility for the common good, and compassionate response to the innocent.  Despite the stereotype, social workers are not “bleeding hearts.”  They know that people can be selfish, uncaring, even cruel.  But they also know that a mean spirit usually arises from circumstances of fear, insecurity, and ignorance.  Social work values are at bottom universal values, and universal values are at the heart of our deeper, better natures as human beings.  When speaking with our “tough” talking fellow citizens, appeal to that better nature.



Dr. Michael Forster

Private prisons love President Trump’s immigration policies

A USA Today story details the intersection of big donations to Trump-related PACs and big gains expected by the private prison industry – http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/23/private-prisons-back-trump-and-could-see-big-payoffs-new-policies/98300394/

Out goes the Obama order attempting to scale back federal use of private prisons, too often the focus of bribery and poor management scandals and prisoner abuses.  In comes tough new immigration enforcement orders that ensure a big increase in demand for prison beds.  Homeland Security directives call for the construction of new jails along the southwest border in particular, where a big jump in the number of undocumented immigrant detainees is anticipated.  Not surprisingly, share prices in publicly traded private prison stock have skyrocketed.

To apply a favorite Trumpian term to this plan to cash in on exploding human incarceration – DISGUSTING!