Over the past four years, there are two subjects that we have opined about more than perhaps any others: the failure to address Mississippi’s deteriorating roads and bridges, and the failure to expand Medicaid.
Both are the results of misguided leadership within Mississippi’s government. Although these criticisms are not intended to pick on Republican officeholders, the fact is they have called all the shots in state government during this time, and there really is no one else to honestly blame. Democrats may raise a fuss, but that’s about all they can do. With Republican supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature and with a Republican governor, whatever the GOP wants, it gets. It doesn’t need a single Democratic vote to get an initiative through.
Gov. Phil Bryant is reportedly set to call a special session of the Legislature before the month is out to pass a road and bridge plan if Republicans can agree in advance among themselves as to where they will get the money. The most logical and most dependable way to fund road work — a hike in the gas tax — has been nixed by Bryant and Senate Republicans. So instead they are left to try to cobble together various sources — including a proposed state lottery — that won’t come close to raising enough money to really catch up on what’s been deferred for so long.
As to expanding Medicaid, while Mississippi stubbornly shakes its head “no” to the federal government’s generous offer, two-thirds of the states — including a growing number of Republican-led ones — are raking in the dough that is propping up their hospitals, creating jobs in the well-paid health sector and contributing to their overall economic growth. While these states are growing both in population and in economic output, Mississippi sits stuck on neutral.
Dr. Timothy J. Alford, a Kosciusko physician has been as disturbed as we are by this government malpractice. Writing in the Clarion Ledger, he offered the following metaphor to portray just what Mississippi has been foregoing.
“Imagine an 18-wheeler pulling up to one of the five Mississippi River bridges and dumping 45 crates 4 feet tall and of $100 bills – $1.5 billion total — into the river, and doing this once a year.”
And it’s not just the generous federal match — still better than 9-to-1 — on which Mississippi is missing out. It’s also not getting the job and tax-revenue spinoffs that come from providing government-funded medical insurance to the working poor.
In neighboring Louisiana, which didn’t decide until 2016 to expand Medicaid, the results have been eye-popping. A study earlier this year by Louisiana State University found that in 2017, that state received $1.85 billion from the federal government to cover the new beneficiaries. The infusion has produced 19,000 jobs and an extra $175 million in state and local government tax revenues. The return was so good for Louisiana that the extra tax revenues collected last year not only covered the state’s cost of expansion but left almost $50 million to spare.
Besides the revenue windfalls, there are also the savings to be expected from providing preventative care to the previously uninsured, catching illnesses early before they turn into catastrophic conditions that someone will pay for when a deathly ill person shows up at a hospital emergency room.
Yet, instead of putting 300,000 of the working poor on Medicaid — almost all of it on the federal government’s expense — Mississippi is more worried about whether 1,300 of the poorest Medicaid recipients should be working.
There is something wrong with this picture. Either the GOP leadership can’t do math, or it puts politics over economics. Whichever it is, the state and its people are paying the price.