All posts by Dr. Michael Forster

Dr. Michael Forster

We have our own swamp to drain in Jackson

By now just about every English-literate person inside and outside Mississippi has heard of state representative Karl Oliver’s Facebook pronouncement that Louisiana leaders removing Confederate monuments from public places should be “lynched.”

It’s hard to imagine a statement more idiotic yet simultaneously more revealing of the base, race-addled mentality underlying so much of what’s wrong with our state.  It’s the same ideologically insensitive mentality responsible for refusing to expand Medicaid to thousands of Mississippi citizens desperate for health care when the opportunity was there, and for repeatedly slashing public health, mental health, and education budgets without apology to those who will suffer the worst consequences.

Social workers, this is what we are up against.  In the current political context, hoping and praying for gradual evolutionary change for the better is delusional.  Petitioning, “lobbying” elected officials in the traditional manner is a dead end.  Forget the Washington nightmare for the moment.  Time to break out the hip boots and ready ourselves to “drain the swamp” in Jackson.

Dr. Michael Forster

Good news, leaders? Mental health cuts, state’s credit rating drops

Good news today for those who want state government to just wither up and die.  Actually, two really encouraging items:

  1. The Mississippi Dept. of Mental Health announced how it will handle a nearly $20 million budget cut: 650 workforce cuts, program and service reductions, more outsourcing of services, admissions shutdowns, tightened eligibility requirements and longer waiting lists for services that remain.

Good luck, social workers trying to make referrals for desperately needed mental health services.  Good luck, police and other law enforcement personnel who will inevitably have to deal with the mentally ill who have no place to go. Good luck, communities with larger numbers of unemployed as well as untreated mentally ill individuals to deal with. But hey, be happy everyone – government is getting smaller.  Woo-hoo!

  1. The credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s Financial Services downgraded Mississippi’s credit rating, noting that lagging tax collections – expected to continue as a result of new tax cuts for business about to kick in – make it tougher for the state to meet its current debt obligations.  Another looming problem is the long-term unfunded liability of the state employee retirement system (PERS).  The agency stopped short of raising the rate Mississippi must pay to borrow new money, though that may come soon.

Again, this is more good news for government haters, who know that the public beast will not stop extending its tentacles until you effectively cut off its essential fuel supply – money.  Less money = less government – which apparently in the minds of our leading public officials means greater happiness all around.

I don’t know about you, fellow Mississippi social workers, but I’m positively giddy at all the good news that keeps pouring in.

Dr. Michael Forster

Economics 101 for social workers

Social workers are notoriously bad about numbers, which unfortunately carries over to the field of economics, or better named, “political economy,” the critical interface of political and economic considerations, the place where policies (a “macro” arena that social workers find at least a little more friendly) are formulated.

But here’s a bit of economics every Mississippi social worker needs to know: So-called “supply side” economics – basically, the idea that by cutting taxes for corporations and the rich, the economy is stimulated and everyone benefits by new job and business growth – don’t work.  It’s on the basis of supply side economics that tax cut-happy politicians often argue that “the cuts will pay for themselves” in the form of economic growth.  But supply side thinking is just plain wrong in virtually all circumstances, and has proven itself so in virtually all instances in which it’s been applied.  Instead of prompting growth, experience suggests that it’s much more likely to provoke a fiscal crisis.

Want evidence?  Look at Kansas, where under Gov. Brownback’s leadership, taxes were repeatedly slashed, resulting in a shortfall of revenue and a protracted fiscal crisis, to the extent that Brownback is having to deal with a backlash within his own anti-tax Republican party.  The flip side is California, where despite dire predictions of economic calamity, Gov. Brown led the charge for selectively raising taxes to address critical state needs (education, health care, infrastructure maintenance), and which is enjoying substantial jobs and business growth.

Mississippi gives every appearance of going down the same dismal road as Kansas (heaven forbid that we might ever follow “liberal” California!), with the added burlesque of a series of poor revenue projections, auditing errors, emergency budget cuts, and most recently, political leaders actually bragging about “shrinking government” through cuts.

Dr. Michael Forster

Do Mississippi Leaders Really Want to Wreck the State?

No more crocodile tears or feigned hand-wringing over having to cut agency budgets because a lousy state economy simply leaves them no choice.  State leaders have let the cat out of the bag – They WANT to cut budgets because that’s how you shrink government, and shrinking government is what they’re all about.

A Monday article in the Clarion-Ledger by Emily Wagster Pettus included these gems from the mouths of prominent legislative leaders:

“We Republicans have campaigned for many, many years that we are for living within our means, we are for controlling spending, we are for reducing the size of government,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. We are for reducing the tax burden.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who heads the Senate, agrees with Gunn wholeheartedly: “That’s what voters elected us to do. They elected us to live within our means,” Reeves said near the session’s end. “They believe they ought to send less money to the government. They believe that they are already overtaxed and overburdened.”

So there you have it.  Our top leaders are PROUD to be doing the people’s will in taking a wrecking ball to our evidently overblown state apparatus.   Apparently, Mississippi just has too much health care, too much education, too many mental health services, too much attention to public safety and to maintaining our transportation infrastructure.

Disagree, social workers?  Then you’d better get busy convincing your fellow citizens that they need to elect leaders with a different mindset.  The current crop has made it clear – Tax cuts take precedence over health, human services, education, and all the rest.  They mean to keep the wrecking ball swinging.

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.